Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Pullet Princess! Cinders: A Chicken Cinderella by Jan Brett

Snow on the outside, feathered friends on the inside...

Jan Brett's newest, Cinders: A Chicken Cinderella (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2013), sets the scene, a Russian chicken coop with ornate towers, settling into a deep winter snowfall, with Tasha, the little girl who cares for the chickens inside, temporarily snowed in with her flock for the night. Largessa,  the old biddy who rules the roost, struts about clucking importantly as she makes sure that her proud daughters Bossy and Pecky, have the best place in the pecking order, as Tasha sits in the straw near the warm stove and offers to tell the drowsy hens a fairy tale.

Settling down, Tasha pulls little Cinders, the much pecked and put-upon little Cochin pullet, into her lap as she begins her story.  But Tasha, too, drifts into a dream-like state, and a story begins to unfold before them all.

... Largessa pulls out a letter from the Ice Palace, inviting all the young hens to a ball.

"Darlings! Prince Cockerel is sure to be looking for a princess bride! Time to get ready!

Summoning little Cinders, the chicken sisters order her to fetch warm water to bathe and fluff their feathers and clean their claws. As sisters primp and preen, Largessa summons Cinders to help dress and adorn Bossy and Pecky in their best finery before they set off for the Ice Palace. Little Cinders longs to go, but she knows she has absolutely nothing to wear to such an elegant event and no way to make her way through the snow to the grand ball.

But Tasha has promised a fairy tale, and Cinders' fluffy-feathered fairy godmother appears in a sudden flare of the stove and provides a silver sarafan dress and crystal slippers and turns a pumpkin into a glorious sleigh, with barn mice for footmen and a handsome pair of gray geese to pull her to the palace.

Brett sticks to the traditional story line, with its warning that the magic ends at midnight, and Cinders enchants Prince Cockerel just as the magic wanes, leaving a crystal slipper behind. Bossy and Pecky are properly put down when their unfortunate feet fail the slipper test, and Cinders rides off with Prince Cockerel to the Ice Palace to feather her nest with her silver eggs and presumably live the poultry version of happily ever after.

The story remains the same; only the names have been changed, but Jan Brett's elaborately styled gouache art, especially the four-page gatefold which features all of the feathered revelers swirling in their colorful finery at the ball, tells the tale in her special style, raising this Cinderella spinoff to the top of the princess tale pecking order. Virtue and hard work are rewarded at last, even in the chicken coop and the old story still has all its magic, set off in this stunning new version by one of the modern masters of picture book art. As Kirkus Reviews writes, "A captivating addition to the "Cinderella" canon."

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