Pros: Interesting story, true Egyptian figures, exceptional illustrations.
Cons: The ending was a little abrupt.
The story of Cinderella is one that almost every little girls likes to read. It’s got everything that is necessary to captivate them; evil stepsisters, an enchanting prince, a grand ball and of course being made princess. A long time ago I came across the book “The Egyptian Cinderella” and picked it up for the boys to read. They all turned their noses up at it and dismissed it as a girlie book but one by one they each read it. This is a little different from the story that has been told over and over again but it is based on some history. The main character of the story, Rhodopis, did indeed marry a pharaoh named Amasis and it was believed that she was a child that was stolen by pirates and sold to a wealthy man on the island of Samos. These elements of truth are mixed in with some folklore about the Cinderella story [evil sisters, missing slipper, prince on a quest etc] to give you a very interesting read along with some breath taking illustrations by Ruth Heller.
The Egyptian Cinderella
The story starts with some background about Rhodopis; she was taken as a child from her home in Greece and sold into enslavement in Greece. She faired better than more children who were sold into slavery because she ended up with an owner that was kind and often gave her gifts. The female servants - a step up from a slave - were not so kind, they teased her about her pale skin and blonde hair and green eyes. She made friends with all the animals that were nearby and loved to sing to them, dance when her work was done and dream of a better life. Fate intervened when her owner awoke to see her dancing and decided to reward her with a pair of special, hand made slippers.
This did nothing to smooth things over with the servants, if anything it made them dislike her even more because they still had their ratty and rough sandals and she had ones made of leather and dipped in gold. Things came to a boil when the female servants announced that they would be setting sail to see the pharaoh in the morning but Rhodopis was not allowed to attend because she had chores to tend to, their chores. She tended to her chores after the servants left and began singing; the hippopotamus that was listening to her grew tired of the song and jumped into the water, setting into motion a series of events that would forever change her life.
She got mud on her shoes and cleaned them immediately; setting them to dry on the river bank a large shadow came over her. A falcon [referred to as a symbol of Horus] swooped down and plucked up one of her sandals. This is where the book really gets interesting and the use of words to express the emotions comes into play. “Rhodopis tucked the slipper into her tunic and returned to her laundry, salting the river with her tears.” The illustration that goes along with this section is really amazing and it adds so much to the text. The falcon made to the pharaoh’s city on the Nile, the same place where the female servants were headed. This is where you are first introduced to Amasis, the ruler who preferred to be out amongst the people than sitting on a throne. During his daydream of a better life [at least a better life to him] the falcon drops the sandal into his lap and he takes it as a sign from the god Horus.
This is where it goes fill swing into the Cinderella story - Amasis starts searching for the woman who lost this sandal, “Every maiden in Egypt must try this shoe! She whose foot it fits shall be my queen. That is the will of the gods.” The servants arrived in Memphis to find the streets empty, Amasis dismissed everyone when he started to search for his soon to be wife. City to city, land to land, Amasis searched with no luck until he came to the part of the Nile where Rhodopis lived. Each of the servants had their turn with the shoe and each of them failed to fit it perfectly. A moment before he left he saw Rhodopis in the weeds and called out to her. The servants knew that the slipper belonged to her but they didn’t think she would ever be made queen, after all, she is just a slave.
That is when true irony is seen in the book - the servant say that she is a slave and that she isn’t even Egyptian but the pharaoh counters with something that has stuck with me over all these years ...”She is the most Egyptian of all, for her eyes are as green as the Nile, her hair as feathery as papyrus and her skin the pink of a lotus flower.” These were all the things that the servants teased her about over the years and now, now the pharaoh sees them as a divine sign from the gods that she is indeed the one that is fit to sit by his side and serve as queen.
To me it is the illustrations that really make this book so enchanting [and I never throw that word around lightly] - one of my favorites is six pages into the book where Rhodopis is seen dancing by her owner. The use of color [pink and purple] on the background almost makes it look like it is glowing. Even the drawings of the female servants are beautiful - it’s when you see all four of them on the same page that you really see the differences between them [skin color, facial features, eyes etc]. The story is awesome too, it has all the basic elements that made Cinderella captivating but it doesn’t litter it with useless stuff like a fairy godmother and vanishing pumpkins. The only thing I didn’t like about the story is that only one of the female servants was named [Kipa], the others were mentioned but never by name. I think part of this was done so that younger readers wouldn’t have to try to remember or pronounce too many long names.
The Bottom Line
This is a great book for kids that are in the seven to ten year range. There aren’t a lot of complex words used but it does expose them to some of the basic things about Egyptian life. This can be used to teach kids about life in Egypt and has some words that can be used for a vocabulary list [papyrus, lotus, tunic, servant etc]. This was something that the boys eventually went back to when they were working on a history project and wanted to get some ideas on how to make jewels for the female figures that they were drawing. Over the years they’ve gone back to this book when they wanted a quick read or wanted to pick up some tid bit about the historic background of the story, I’m just glad they read it a couple times - anything more than that was icing on the cake. Annabelle really likes this book however when she stood up in the tub [after covering herself from head to toe in bath paints] and said “I am Rhodopis, queen of the Nile” I had to break it to her that the Nile was really a bathtub and that if she painted herself again, she’d be the one doing the cleaning up!
As always, thanks for the read!
~^V^~ Freak ~^V^~
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