Lowell, Susan. 2000. Cindy Ellen: a wild western Cinderella. Ill. by Jane Manning. New York: HaperCollins Children's Books. ISBN 9780064438643.
Plot Summary -
In this Wild West version of the classic fairy tale Cinderella, a young cowgirl named Cindy Ellen lives with her snaky old stepmother and her two stepsisters on her father's ranch. Cindy Ellen is so good that she makes her stepsisters look bad, so her stepmother begins to mistreat her by making Cindy Ellen do all the chores especially the difficult and dirty ones. Joe Prince, son of a wealth rancher, holds a rodeo and square dance to find him a bride. At first Cindy Ellen cannot go because she is dirty and has no way to get there. Then her pistol packing fairy godmother shows up and gets her ready to go with the use of her magic dust and gives Cindy Ellen the expected warning to be home by midnight. Cindy Ellen attends both the rodeo and square dance with Prince Joe falling in love with her. She must leave by midnight but one of her diamond spurs falls off and Prince Joe finds it. He goes all through the territory trying the spur on every girl's foot looking for the love of his life. Finally, he puts it on Cindy Ellen and they marry living happily ever after.
Critical Analysis -
This version of an old traditional tale faithfully follows the plot development of Cinderella with an American Wild West motif. It is an example of a modern day fractured fairy tale in that it is a parody of Cinderella and has a known author. All the traditional Cinderella elements have been replaced with Western elements, for example, the ball becomes a rodeo and square dance, the glass slipper becomes a diamond spur and the magic wand becomes a magic pistol. The best element is the transformation of the language. Lowell captivates the reader with her genuine use of the American West dialect. The reader laughs out loud when hearing language like "orneriest" and "gumption." Additionally her colorful use of similes and metaphors are particularly entertaining. Some of my favorite ones are "meaner than a rattlesnake," "spitting image," "hissed the stepmother," and "eating his heart out." All of which adds to the authentic representation of the old American West.
The illustrations also add an interesting dimension to this tale. One way is that they are bright fun colors with modern clothing. The pictures give the reader the idea that it is an old story because everyone travels by horse, wagon, or carriage. There are no modern items, yet the clothing is more typical of what the characters would wear today than in the old West. Another way the illustrations add an interesting dimension is in the facial expressions. They are priceless. When the stepsisters are being mean to Cindy Ellen, they have small beady eyes and eyebrows that shoot straight up in a menacing fashion. When Cindy Ellen is exhibiting her daredevil grin, she is cutting her light blue eyes to the side with her cute dimples on display. The facial expressions are irreplaceable.
One illustrative element that seems out of place is the dress Cindy Ellen wears to the square dance. She is wearing a long full dress with ornate flowering on long sleeves and large red flowers in her hair. It looks more like the dresess worn by dancers from Mexico than by those at a Western square dance. However, a careful reading of the text reveals what might have sparked this possible deviation. The fairy godmother tells Cindy Ellen, "Maybe si, maybe no" Perhaps Manning's imagination to select the Spanish style outfit was prompted by the use of a Spaonish word. Whatever the reason, it is a wonderful illustration that adds an interesting dimension to this marvelous version of an old favorite.
Review Excerpts -
Kirkus review - "Bright, stylish...Manning tricks out her characters in dazzling modern cowboy dress."
Horn Book - "Expressive regional turns of phrase and exuberant full-color comic illustrations in skewed perspectives place the action squarely in the dry desert of the West."
Winner of the Storyteller Award from the Western Writers of America.
*Before reading Cindy Ellen: A Wild Western Cinderella, have the children brainstorm everything they know about the traditional fairy tale Cinderella. If they are not familiar with it, then read it to them first. Then make a chart showing how they are similar and different.
*Discuss with the children the American West dialect.
*After reading the tale, compare and contrast this Western Cinderella tale which has a female protagonist with one that has a male protagonist like Bubba, the Cowboy Prince by Helen Ketterman ISBN 9780590255066.
*For older children, use Bubba, the Cowboy Prince to demonstrate reader's theater, and then put the children in groups to write their own scripts for Cindy Ellen: A Wild Western Cinderella.