“Cinderella” is one of the best-known and best-loved of all fairy tales, and for good reason. It’s a dramatic story with a strong moral. The story tells of a virtuous, hard-working young girl who is mistreated by her cruel stepmother and stepsisters and forced to sit among the ashes and do all the housework. A great ball is given by the prince of their country, and the cruel stepmother and sisters attend, but leave Cinderella at home, crying in the ashes.
With the help of a fairy godmother, Cinderella is able to go to the ball in style. She dances with the prince and makes a stir, but she has to leave by midnight, when all her finery will turn back into the rags and pumpkins and mice and such that it was magically made from. Cinderella hears the clock strike and runs down the steps of the palace, leaving behind one glass slipper. The prince, smitten with Cinderella, searches everywhere for the girl whose foot fits the slipper. After various machinations on the parts of the stepsisters, the prince finds and marries Cinderella, and they live happily ever after.
There are many good reasons for using “Cinderella” in your classroom, not the least of which is that the story turns up all over the world and throughout human history, so it is just about perfect for those cross-cultural literature studies. A collection of Cinderella stories from all over makes a good starting point. You might also like Eight Cinderellas, a book from critical thinking specialists Pieces of Learning which compares stories from eight different cultures.
Let me give you a list of some of my favorite picture book versions of alternative Cinderellas:
- The Egyptian Cinderella, Shirley Climo
- The Persian Cinderella, by Shirley Climo
- The Irish Cinderlad , by Shirley Climo
- Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story from China, by Ai-Ling Louie
- Smoky Mountain Rose: An Appalachian Cinderella , by Alan Schroeder
- Cendrillon: A Caribbean Cinderella, by Robert San Souci
- Cinderella: An Art Deco Love Story, by Lynn Roberts
- Adelita , A Mexican Cinderella Story, by Tomie DePaola
- The Golden Sandal: A Middle Eastern Cinderella Story, by Rebecca Hickox
- Bubba, The Cowboy Prince, by Helen Ketteman (fun for a cowboy classroom theme, too)
- Cindy Ellen: A Wild Western Cinderella, by Susan Lowell
- The Rough-Face Girl, by Rafe Martin
- Jouanah: A Hmong Cinderella, by Jewell Reinhart Coburn
- Domitila: A Cinderella Tale from the Mexican Tradition, by Jewell Reinhart Coburn
- Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave, by Marianna Mayer
Mary Engelbreit included this story in her Nursery and Fairy Tales Collection.
The drawback to studying “Cinderella” is that the story is so familiar that you need to come up with exciting new ways to present it every time. Fortunately, there are lots of possibilities.
Usually, the first thing to do with a fairy tale is to read it to the students. Here is a simple version of the story with no gore, suitable for young listeners. Or you can read a picture book version of the classic French story — a couple of my favorites are those of Marcia Brown and K.Y. Craft. With Cinderella, though, you might want to begin with the retelling step. Have the students tell you the story while you write it on the board, or divide into groups to write out and present orally their recollections of the story.
It is likely that either Walt Disney’s movie version or the Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella TV version is the most familiar one to the kids in your class. If not, it would probably be the English translation from the 1700s of the French story written down by Perrault in the 1600s.
Amazon has a new version of Cinderella with a significantly different story line. Cinderella, known just as “Ella,” wants to be a fashion designer. She and the prince don’t get married, and his sister takes over the ruling of the kingdom. The stepmother is given a backstory. Watch with your class and compare with other versions.
Once the basic shape of the story has been recalled, you might like to read the Brothers Grimm’s version to older classes. Compare this with the Perrault or the Disney version. The list of Cinderella stories above can provide a new Cinderella to read each day through the unit.
Now, on to the cross-curricular connections.
- Bring out your classroom pocket chart or favorite graphic organizer poster and help students decide what counts as a Cinderella story and what does not. List the essential characteristics and then divide the class into groups to look at one of the stories listed above and determine whether it should be counted as a Cinderella story or not. Some of the characteristics most would list as essential for a Cinderella story would be the goodness and the oppression of the hero or heroine, the test of identity (often the trying on of the slipper), and the happy ending. But many Cinderella stories have an animal companion, most have a magical opportunity to escape oppression, and plenty have tests of the hero or heroine’s strength or cleverness. Decide as a class which or how many characteristics are required for a story to count as a Cinderella story. Beyond the stories listed, consider others: what about Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters or King Lear? Are they Cinderella stories?
- Anne Sexton’s poem “Cinderella” could start your class off on a discussion of poetry or of Cinderella, and writing a poem in response to the discussion.
- Terri Windling’s essay “Cinderella: Ashes, Blood, and the Slipper of Glass” , suitable for older students, examines the changes in Cinderella stories through time, with special reference to the images of women presented.
- All these options provide excellent opportunities to discuss and practice written response to text.
- The Inland Pacific Ballet has a study guide packet with lots of background information and several good writing assignments.
- My favorite math connection for Cinderella is time. Here are a couple of centers from the Cinderella Workshop. The center on the left asks young students just to sort the clocks into “midnight” and “not midnight” — a good first look at reading analog clocks. Round cookies with icing or licorice whip hands pointing to midnight are another tasty choice for this concept.
- The center on the right goes with the song “Ten Minutes Ago” from the Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Why not play the song from the DVD and do a lesson on reading clocks by asking students what time it was ten minutes ago and what they were doing? A pocket chart can let this lesson extend through the day. Put “Ten minutes ago” on one sentence strip and just beneath it have a second that changes through the day, as you stop occasionally and ask the kids that question again.
- If you read Vasilisa the Brave, note that Russia covers 7 time zones. Use a map of Russia to study the concept of time zones, making sentences comparing the time in, for example, Moscow and Tomsk.
- In addition to clock time, Cinderella can be used for calendar time. The variant “The Twelve Months” is great for the calendar in a year, and the fact that Cinderella stories can be found from 848 to 2000 AD makes it good for looking at chronological order. This center uses leftover border to make a mini pocket chart, and has the students sort the Cinderellas chronologically. This version is simple, and we would put it with a stack of the picture books. The kids can then read the books, including the introductions, and also use their prior knowledge about the world and the book’s details and illustrations to determine the correct order for the Cinderellas on the timeline. We could also have students dress the little paper doll Cinderellas in appropriate clothing for their time periods and use that information in the center in the future. With larger cutouts, this could also make a great interactive bulletin board.
- Cinderella also lends itself to measurement, particularly of feet. Bring out the rulers and have the kids measure their feet. Also have them measure the distance between their elbows and their wrists, and see what there is to see. (Usually, the two measurements match. This may surprise the kids!) Make a chart for the class.
- Read The Irish Cinderlad and note all the different and interesting idiosyncratic measurements it includes. Challenge students to figure out their own ways of describing size, or to convert the Irish Cinderlad’s measurements into customary units.
- Cinderella usually is engaged in housework. This could be a good time to study cleanliness and health. One of our favorite experiments for this topic is to slice a raw potato and pass one slice around the room, letting everyone handle it as they please, while boiling another slice (don’t let it get soft). Fish the boiled slice out without touching it and put both slices into ziplock bags. Observe the two slices over the length of the unit and note the differences. Use a microscope if you can.
- We also like to think about the various materials used for shoes in the stories. Gold? Glass? How practical would that be? Have students set up an experiment to try making shoes out of different materials and testing their practicality. Bring in recyclables and let students construct and test shoes. Give points for the quality of their experimental design as well as for the quality and usefulness of the shoes. Maybe some points for style, too.
- Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella is a very accessible musical for kids. Discuss how the songs are used to convey character as well as to move the plot along. Why not sing some of the songs in class?
- The other great musical form of Cinderella is Rossini’s opera. This is very accessible even to young children, and it is available on CD and DVD. This could be an excellent way to introduce opera to your class.
- Amazon’s new Cinderella centers on a variety of pop songs, including “Material Girl” and “Rhythm Nation.” Newsweek has a complete list. Encourage students to find the original artists and compare the covers with the originals.
- Geography is a natural connection for Cinderella stories. The center shown above being used as a timeline will also work for sorting the Cinderellas from East to West (specify a starting point!) or into continents. Use Google Earth to create a Cinderella map.
- Cinderella is mistreated. In European Cinderella stories, she is verbally abused and treated unfairly, and in stories such as the Vietnamese Tam and Cam or the Native American The Hidden One, she is beaten or burned. This could be a good starting point for a consideration of child abuse. It might be interesting to discuss how ideas about discipline and punishment for children have changed over time.
- Pushcart Players have a study guide that uses the Cinderella study as a starting point for a discussion of bullying. How is the bullying Cinderella receives like and unlike bullying at school? The Pushcart Players study guide has a simple but powerful long-term activity to cut down on classroom bullying.
- There are different morals to the Cinderella story, but “Virtue is rewarded” is usually the main one. The Cinderella character is always good, but what that means varies from one story to another. Sometimes he or she is clever or kind or honest or brave, sometimes just uncomplaining and beautiful. Ask students to write a journal entry or a persuasive essay on what they consider to be the most important virtues.
Updated September 7th, 2021