72 – A Biology Lesson With The Trumpet of the Swan

Two swans are nesting in the pond behind my house, and it’s created a wonderful chance for myself and co-host Chloë to see that E.B. White was very accurate in his description of swan behavior in The Trumpet of the Swan. As we are in England they are Mute Swans, not Trumpeters, but their behavior is very similar. Chloë has learned some lessons from the character of Sam Beaver about how to respectfully observe wildlife, and today she shares her findings.

Our swans have behaved in a remarkably similar way to the fictional ones in The Trumpet of the Swan. They return to the same spot each year. They make their nest on a little peninsula that juts out from the side of the pond where the shore is quite steep. It would be hard for anything to approach them from the land, and their position on the shore gives them a full view of anything in the water. The cob is amazingly protective, even suspicious, when it comes to his wife and her nest. And yet, they seem to trust quiet, respectful observers who keep a safe distance and don’t do anything to upset them.

Activity: Observe a Nest

What birds nest in your area during the spring? Do some research about one or more species so that you can find a nest. Where are the nests usually found? What do the nests look like? What materials are they made of? What color are the eggs and how many are there usually? How long does it take for the eggs to hatch?

Before you go out on your nest hunt, read the first three chapters of The Trumpet of the Swan. Write down or discuss how Sam Beaver behaves around wildlife. How is he a good example of someone who enjoys observing wild animals in a way that is responsible? What are some adjectives that describe his behavior? What rewards does he get because he chooses to behave in this way?

Go out and search for a birds’ nest. Keep a safe distance so that you do not disturb the animals, using binoculars if necessary. If possible, go back to check on the nest regularly until the baby birds hatch. Record your observations and questions in a journal as Sam Beaver did.

71 – Sue Townsend

Sue Townsend is Leicestershire’s most beloved author. While she primarily wrote for adults, she has been a major influence on other local children’s writers and her first three novels about the angsty, acne-plagued Adrian Mole remain beloved by teens and adults alike after 40 years in print. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4, The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole, and The True Confessions of Adrian Albert Mole provide a spectacular view of the messy life of a teenager growing up in Britain in the 80’s.

The novels about Adrian Mole’s teen years are a good lesson in the history and politics of this period, offering a chance for kids to understand the different points of view on the issue of government assistance and social programs for those farther down the economic ladder. They also provide a great opportunity to spark conversations about how teenagers should deal with the increasingly adult problems they will have in their lives, sometimes sooner than they would wish.

Activity: Who Should Help Adrian?

Adrian Mole is a disadvantaged teenager. His parents have a volatile relationship, and for a while his mother moves away. Both parents have short-term relationships wiht other people, creating an even more unstable home environment for Adrian. Both parents smoke and drink heavily and depend on government handouts to pay the bills and put food on the table.

Issues such as welfare benefits, socialized health care, and who deserves help from society can quickly become abstract or even contentious, but teens can begin exploring these ideas in an age-appropriate way by keeping the focus on Adrian and his life. Students can explore the following questions in a classroom conversation or in an essay.

  • When parents fail to take care of their kids properly, what is the point at which help should be offered by outside groups such as churches, schools, or social workers?
  • Adrian had his first hangover at age 14. What public health information can you find out about the dangers of heavy drinking at such a young age? What do you think is a good way to talk to teenagers about the risks that come from drinking alcohol?
  • Adrian’s father loses his job and becomes too depressed to look for work, instead sleeping late and watching television during the day and depending upon government benefits to pay the bills. Without welfare payments to Mr. Mole, Adrian will not have enough to eat or a home to live in. Do you feel Mr. Mole should continue to receive money from the government?
  • If disadvantaged children do not receive help to ensure that they have homes, food, healthcare, and an education, it is more likely that they will work in lower-paying jobs, have poorer health, and be more likely to engage in criminal behavior. What are ways that disadvantaged children can be helped? How should the costs of such help be paid for? Who should decide what help a child’s family should receive?

70 – Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret

It’s time to talk about everyone’s favorite controversial novel about the utter awkwardness of puberty. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume is a book that is rarely read as a part of school curriculum but has been quietly circulated in school libraries for more than 50 years. It’s getting a big screen release in just a few weeks, so let’s all rip open painful memories of our pre-teen years as we revisit the tale of Margaret Simon and her adolescent angst.

Activity: Journal Like Margaret

One of the things that makes Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret so relatable is the extremely direct way she talks about the things that are on her mind. Encourage students to write out the things that they are currently worrying about, being as honest as possible. However, it is very important that this assignment remain optional. Students should be allowed to destroy what they write, keep it private, or share it with whomever they wish depending entirely on personal preferences. The point of the exercise is to encourage students to engage directly with their feelings and concerns, not to feel that those thoughts must be composed with some external audience in mind.

Activity: Let’s Talk Angst

If appropriate for the students and setting, have a discussion about why it’s so hard to talk about anything involving sex, puberty, and bodies. You can completely avoid direct discussion of these topics, keeping the focus on the anxiety, shame, and awkwardness everyone feels around them. It can help pre-teens feel a lot better about themselves if they know how common these uncomfortable feelings are, and students can be encouraged to be more sympathetic toward one another as they all move through a difficult time of life.

69 – The Princess in Black

It’s Spring Break, so this week I thought I’d have a bit of fun by interviewing my daughter and frequent collaborator, Chloë, to find out why the Princess in Black series by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale, and LeUyen Pham are her favorite books.

Activity: Make your own Princess in Black Adventures!

  • Perform one of Princess Magnolia’s adventures at home using puppets
  • Make a work of art that shows one of the monsters from the book, or design your own monster
  • Come up with your own princess name and make a costume for yourself using stuff you have at home

68 – The Secret Garden Was Right About Robins

As an American, I had always assumed that the character of the robin in The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett was exaggerated to make it more intelligent and human-like than in real life. But now that I have my own “bit of Earth” in an English garden, I can see just how wrong I was! The Secret Garden is actually incredibly accurate in its description of the behaviors and biology of the British robin, and as you and your kids read this story you can get the most pleasant science lesson you’ve ever had.

Activity: Learn About British Robins

Children can write down what they learn about British robins as they read The Secret Garden. The character of the robin in the book displays behaviors normal to the species, and more information can be found online. Here are some reliable websites to help get you started:

British Trust for Ornithology
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
Natural History Museum
BBC Wildlife Magazine

Print this worksheet and fill it out as you read The Secret Garden. Use clues from the novel as well as reliable scientific websites to learn more about the biology and behavior of the British robin.

67 – Interview with Tom Phillips

March’s Leicestershire Children’s Writer is Tom Phillips, also known as Tom the Tale Teller. He’s the author of Leicestershire Folk Tales for Children, a collection of local stories from the spooky and fantastic to the sad but true.

In our conversation, we talk about the importance of keeping in-person storytelling alive. It’s more important than ever in a world full of digital distractions. Tom explains how he selected the stories for his book, how he dealt with the problem of multiple versions of a story, and how he managed to simplify the very complicated tales of Lady Jane Grey and Richard III. We also mention two places that have inspired storytelling for each of us — Bradgate Park here in Leicestershire and Sycamore Canyon in Los Angeles.

You can find Tom the Tale Teller online. Give him a follow to see videos of past storytelling and find out where you can see him in person!

Check out my previous features of Leicestershire Children’s Writers. Each month this year I’ll be featuring an author from my community!

66 – Audiobook: Aschenputtel (1819 Second Edition)

This is a presentation of “Aschenputtel” as published in the 1819 second edition of Kinder- und Hausmärchen by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Translated and performed by T.Q. Townsend. This audiobook may be freely used for non-profit educational purposes.

Illustration: Hermann Vogel

The audiobook is also available on YouTube:

Aschenputtel (1819)
Translated by T.Q. Townsend

The wife of a rich man fell ill and realized she was about to die. She called her only daughter to her bedside and said to her: “Keep your faith and be a good girl. Then God will bless you and I will do my best to look down from heaven and watch over you.” Then the mother closed her eyes and died.

Every day, the girl went to her mother’s grave and wept. She remembered to be pious and good, just as her mother had told her. The winter snows came and covered the grave like a white blanket, and when the summer sun came and took it away, the man took another wife.

The new stepmother had two daughters that she brought with her, but while their faces were fair, their hearts were ugly. Then times became hard for the poor girl.

“Why is this useless thing in the room?” the new ladies asked. “Whoever eats bread should earn it first. Away with this scullery maid,” they laughed, leading the girl into the kitchen. She was given the heaviest work to do, getting up early in the morning to carry water, make the fires, cook, and wash. The stepsisters tormented her, mocked her, and threw the peas and lentils into the ashes, so that she had to pick them all out and clean them again. In the evenings, when the poor girl was tired, she had no bed to sleep in, so she would lie down in the ashes by the hearth to keep warm. Soon she became so dirty and dusty that the stepsisters called her Aschenputtel.

The father prepared one day to go to a market town, and he asked his two stepdaughters what gifts they would like him to bring. “Beautiful clothing,” said one sister. “Sparkling gems,” said the other.

“And you, Aschenputtel?” asked the father. “What do you want?”

“Father, all I want is the first twig that knocks against your hat on the way home,” Aschenputtel answered.

The Father rode away to the market, and as he rode through a thicket on the way back, a hazel tree brushed against him and knocked off his hat. So he broke off a twig and added it to the bundle containing lovely gowns and fine jewels. When he got home he gave the lovely gifts to his stepdaughters and handed the twig to Aschenputtel.

Aschenputtel took the bit of hazel and went to her mother’s grave. She planted the twig in the dark soil and wept so much that the tears spilled all over the green leaves. The cutting took root and soon became a beautiful tree. Aschenputtel visited the grave three times every day to weep and pray. Every time a little bird would visit the tree, and it had the power to give her anything she needed.

It happened that the king declared that there would be a three-day festival, during which his son would choose a bride. The two stepsisters were invited. They called Aschenputtel, saying, “Comb our hair. Brush and buckle our shoes. We will go and dance at the king’s ball.”

Aschenputtel wished with all her heart that she might go too, and begged her stepmother that she might be allowed to do so.

“You, Aschenputtel?” sneered the Stepmother. “You have nothing fit to wear. You shouldn’t be allowed to attend, no matter how badly you want to go. But I’ll tell you what. If you can sort and clean these lentils in two hours, I’ll let you go to the ball.” And with that, she threw a bowl of lentils into the ashes.

As soon as the Stepmother was gone, Aschenputtel went to the garden door and cried out:

“You sweet little doves, you lovebirds! All you birds under the heavens, please help me! Put the good ones in the pot and the bad ones in your crop!”

Two white doves fluttered through the kitchen window. Then came the lovebirds, and finally many little birds flocked down from the sky and went down to the ashes. The birds nodded their heads and began their work. Pick, pick! Pick, pick! They threw all the good grains into the pot, and swallowed the hard ones as a reward. Hardly an hour had passed when the work was all done and the birds fluttered away. Aschenputtel brought the pot of clean lentils to her Stepmother, smiling because she believed that now she would be allowed to come along to the ball.

But the stepmother only sneered “No, Aschenputtel. You have nothing to wear and may not go to the dance.”

Aschenputtel began to weep, and then the Stepmother said, “I’ll tell you what. If you can pick out two bowls in the next hour, I’ll change my mind.” The Stepmother flung two bowls full of lentils into the ashes, thinking to herself that Aschenputtel would never manage the task.

As soon as the Stepmother had gone, Aschenputtel hurried once more to the back door and cried out:

“You sweet little doves, you lovebirds! All you birds under the heavens, please help me! Put the good ones in the pot and the bad ones in your crop!”

Once again two white doves fluttered through the kitchen window. Then the lovebirds came back, and finally the little birds flocked down from the sky and went down to the ashes. The birds nodded their heads and began their work once more. Pick, pick! Pick, pick! They threw all the good grains into the pot, and swallowed the hard ones as a reward. Before half an hour had passed, all the work was done and the birds flew away.

Aschenputtel brought the bowls to her stepmother, filled with hope that she could come along. But the stepmother only said, “It’s useless. You can’t come with us. You have nothing to wear. You can’t dance; we would be ashamed to be seen with you.”

And then the stepmother and her daughters went away to the ball. Once she was all alone, Aschenputtel went to her mother’s grave under the hazel tree and called out:

“Shake, shake, little tree! Gold and silver give to me!”

Then the little bird perched among the hazel branches threw down a gown made of gold and silver cloth, and a pair of slippers embroidered with silk and silver. Aschenputtel put on the lovely clothing and went to the festival. Her stepsisters and stepmother did not recognize her, thinking the lovely, richly dressed maiden must be some foreign princess. They never imagined it could be Aschenputtel, who they believed was lying in the ashes at home.

As soon as he saw Aschenputtel, the king’s son ran to take her by the hand and asked her to dance. He spent the entire evening by her side and would dance with no one else. If anyone else came to ask Aschenputtel to dance, the prince would tell them, “she is my partner!”

Aschenputtel danced and danced until it was time to go home. The king’s son begged, “let me escort you home,” wishing to know which family the beautiful girl belonged to. But as they neared her house, Aschenputtel managed to slip away and ran to hide in the dovecote. The king’s son waited until the father came home and told him about the mysterious girl who was hiding in the birds’ house.

The father wondered to himself if the maiden were Aschenputtel, but he said nothing. Instead he called for an axe and a pickaxe and cut the dovecote in two. But there was nobody in it. When the family went into the house, they saw Aschenputtel lying among the cinders in her old dirty clothes, with her dim oil lamp hanging by the chimney. She had managed to slip out the other side of the dovecote, return the beautiful clothing to the bird sitting in the tree over the grave, and return to the kitchen in her old gray gown before anyone could see her.

The next day, after the father, stepmother, and stepsisters had gone away to the ball, Aschenputtel returned to the hazel tree and called out:

“Shake, shake, little tree! Gold and silver give to me!”

Then the little bird threw down an even more splendid dress than the one from the day before. When Aschenputtel arrived at the ball, everyone was amazed at her beauty. The king’s son had been waiting for her, and when he saw her he took her by the hand and danced with her only. If anyone else came to ask Aschenputtel to dance, the prince would tell them, “she is my partner!”

When evening came and it was time to go, the King’s son tried to follow her again, but she slipped away and fled into the garden behind her house. There stood a beautiful, tall pear tree full of delicious fruit. Aschenputtel climbed it quickly so that the King’s son could not see her anymore. The prince waited until the father came home and said to him, “The mysterious maiden escaped from me. I think she jumped into your pear tree.”

The father wondered once again if the maiden were Aschenputtel, but once again he said nothing. Instead he sent for an ax and cut down the pear tree, but there was nobody in it. When the family went inside, they found Aschenputtel lying by the fireplace as usual. She had jumped down from the tree on the other side, returned her lovely gown to the bird sitting in the hazel tree, and put her old gray dress back on before anyone could spot her.

On the third day, when the father, stepmother, and stepsisters had gone to the ball, Aschenputtel returned to her mother’s grave and said to the little tree:

“Shake, shake, little tree! Gold and silver give to me!”

And then the bird threw down a dress that was more magnificent than any that had ever been seen, with slippers made all of gold. When Aschenputtel arrived at the ball, everyone was so amazed that they could not even speak. The king’s son danced with Aschenputtel alone, and for a third time if anyone else asked her to dance, he would say right away: “She is my partner.”

When evening came, Aschenputtel took her leave and the king’s son begged to escort her home. She sprang away, hoping to escape as before. But as she fled the palace, her left shoe was lost, for the king’s son had ordered that the stairs be coated with pitch. The king’s son retrieved the shoe. The next day he issued a declaration which announced, “the one who fits this golden slipper shall be my wife!”

When the stepsisters heard this, they were very happy, for they had beautiful feet. When it was her turn to try, the elder sister went into her room with the shoe while her mother stood by. But the slipper was too small for her, and her big toe stuck out.

The stepmother handed her daughter a knife and told her, “cut off your toe. When you’re queen, you won’t need to walk anymore.”

And so the girl cut off her toe and squeezed her foot into the shoe. Then she went to see the king’s son. Believing he had found his bride, he lifted the elder sister onto his horse and began to ride away with her. But on the way out they passed the hazel tree growing over the grave, and two doves sitting there cried out:

“Turn and see! Turn and see!
A bloody shoe! How can that be?
The slipper doesn’t fit at all.
Go back! Find your true bride from the ball!”

The king’s son looked down and saw the blood spurting from the foot. He turned his horse around and brought the false bride home.

“This isn’t the right one. Have the other sister try on the shoe,” the king’s son ordered.

And so the younger sister took the golden slipper up to her room to try it on. But her heel was too big, and it did not fit. Then her mother handed her the knife and said, “Cut off your heel. When you’re queen, you won’t need to walk anymore.” And so the girl cut off a piece of her heel and squeezed her foot into the shoe. Then she went to see the king’s son. Believing that he had at last found his true love, he lifted the younger sister onto his horse and began to ride away with her. But once again, as they passed the hazel tree growing over the grave, the two doves cried out:

“Turn and see! Turn and see!
A bloody shoe! How can that be?
The slipper doesn’t fit at all.
Go back! Find your true bride from the ball!”

The king’s son looked down and saw that so much blood was coming out of the shoe that it had dyed the girl’s stockings quite red. He turned his horse around and brought the false bride home.

“She’s not the right one either,” he said. “Isn’t there another daughter here?”

“No,” replied the father. “There’s only one nasty little cinderwench that my first wife left behind when she died, but she couldn’t be your bride.”

The king’s son insisted on seeing Aschenputtel, but the stepmother refused, pleading, “Oh, no, she’s much too dirty to be seen by you.”

But at last the king’s son ordered that the girl be presented to him. When she heard about her royal visitor, Aschenputtel washed her hands and face, then went and bowed before the king’s son. He gave her the golden slipper. She slipped her heavy boot from her left foot, and then stepped into the golden shoe. She stood wearing it as if it had been made for her alone. She bowed her head to him, and at last the king’s son recognized her face.

“This is my true love!” he declared.

The stepmother and stepsisters were both terrified and pale with anger. The king’s son put Aschenputtel on his horse and rode away with her. As they passed the hazel tree, the two doves called out:

“Turn and see! Turn and see!
No blood in the shoe will be
The fit is perfect – can’t you tell?
Now there will be wedding bells!”

And as they finished their song, they both flew down and sat upon Aschenputtel’s shoulders, one upon the right and the other on the left.

On the day of Aschenputtel’s marriage to the king’s son, the stepsisters came, hoping to get something for themselves out of this happiness. The eldest stood at the right of the church door and the youngest on the left. When Aschenputtel and the King’s son went into the church, the doves pecked out an eye from each stepsister. When the couple came back out again, the doves pecked out their other eyes. And so they were punished with blindness for their wickedness.

65 – Audiobook: Aschenputtel (1812 First Edition)

This is a presentation of “Aschenputtel” as published in the 1812 first edition of Kinder- und Hausmärchen by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Translated and performed by T.Q. Townsend. This audiobook may be freely used for non-profit educational purposes.

Illustration: Alexander Zick

The audiobook is also available on YouTube:

Aschenputtel (1812)
Translated by T.Q. Townsend

Once upon a time there was a rich man and his wife who lived happily together with their little daughter. But the woman became gravely ill, and before she died she said to called her daughter to her and said: “Dear child, I must leave you. But when I am in heaven I will watch over you. Plant a tree on my grave, and if you ever need anything, shake it. When you are in need I will send you help. All you must do is remain pious and good.” With these last words, she closed her eyes and died. The girl wept for a long time. But she remembered to plant a tree on her mother’s grave. She never needed to carry water to the tree, for her tears were enough.

The grave was covered in a white cloth of winter snow. Then the warm summer sun pulled the blanket away, and the tree became green for a second season. Then the man took another wife. The new stepmother had been a widow, and had two daughters who were fair of face but proud, wicked, and haughty in heart. As soon as the wedding was over and the three newcomers drove to the house, things went badly for the poor girl.

“What is this nasty useless thing doing in the house?” said the stepmother, taking the girl into the kitchen. “If she wants to eat bread she must earn it first. She can be our maid.”

The stepsisters took away her beautiful clothes and put an old gray gown on her.

“It looks good on you!” the stepsisters cackled.

The poor child had to do the heaviest work in the house. Every morning she rose early, carried water from the well, lit the fire, cooked, and washed. The stepsisters did all the could to mock her. Their favorite prank was to pour the peas and lentils into the ashes by the fireplace so that the girl would have to spend all day picking them out and cleaning them. At night she had no bed to lie in, so she would sleep in the ashes by the hearth to keep from freezing. And because she was constantly digging in the ashes and sleeping by the fire, she became very dusty and dirty. And so her stepsister gave her the name Aschenputtel.

Some time later, the King announced that there would be a splendid ball which would last for three days. It was time for his son to choose a wife. The two proud sisters were invited to attend. They bragged to Aschenputtel even as they made her serve them. “Come up,” they called. ‘Comb our hair. Brush our shoes and buckle them. We’re going to the Prince’s ball!” Aschenputtel did her chores faithfully, but the stepsisters still scolded her.

The stepsisters asked mockingly, “Aschenputtel, would you like to go to the ball?”

“Oh, yes,” Aschenputtel answered. “But how could I go? I have nothing to wear.”

“No indeed,” sneered the eldest stepsister. “That would be a fine thing if you showed up. We would be ashamed if people heard you were our sister. You belong in the kitchen. There you have your bowls of lentils. When we get back they must be properly sorted. Be careful not to leave any bad ones in, or you will regret it.”

And with that the stepsisters went away. Aschenputtel stood at the window and watched until the carriage vanished from her sight. When she could see them no more, she sadly went back to the kitchen and stared at the enormous heap of lentils that she had to sort.

“Oh,” she sighed. “I have to finish all of this work by midnight. No matter how my eyes hurt me, I can’t let them close. Oh, how I wish my mother knew of this!” She knelt before the stove next to the pile of lentils and was about to start sorting them when two white doves flew through the window and sat on the hearth beside her. They nodded their heads politely and asked “Aschenputtel, shall we help you pick through the lentils?”

“Oh, yes please!” Aschenputtel replied. “The bad ones in your crop, the good ones in the pot.”

And pick, pick! Pick, pick! The doves ate away the harder lentils, which they preferred, leaving the ones good for people. In just a quarter of an hour the good lentils were sorted and clean in the pot, with not a single bad one among them.

Then the doves said, “Aschenputtel, if you want to see your sisters dance with the Prince, climb up into the dovecote.” Aschenputtel followed the birds back to their little house. She climbed up to the top of the ladder and peered inside. She saw a vision of the great hall at the palace, and saw her sisters dancing with the prince. The palace glimmered and shone with thousands of lights that sparkled in her eyes. When she had seen enough, she came down from the dovecote with a heavy heart. Then she lay down in the ashes and fell asleep.

The next morning the stepsisters came to the kitchen, hoping to see her still at work sorting lentils so they could scold her. They were angry to see that the work was finished and that Aschenputtel had managed to get some sleep. So instead they decided to tell her all about the ball.

“Oh, it was such a pleasure to be at the ball. The Prince is so very handsome, and such a fine dancer!” They said. “One of us will certainly become his wife.”

“I saw it all,” said Aschenputtel. “The flickering lights were so splendid.”

“What?” the eldest stepsister cried. “How did you see anything?”

“I . . . saw it from the top of the dovecote,” Aschenputtel stammered.

The elder sister was outraged and instantly called for the servants and ordered them to tear down the dovecote. But the younger still had some small amount of pity in her heart, and when Aschenputtel came to wash and brush her hair, she whispered, “you can still try to see the palace from the window.” But the elder sister overheard and shouted, “No! That lazy servant has a sack full of peas to sort. Aschenputtel, tonight you will sort through them, and if you don’t finish before we return tonight I will throw them all in the ashes and you won’t get a bite to eat until you do the job all over again!”

The stepsisters flounced away to the second night at the ball, but as soon as they had gone, the doves returned and said kindly, “Aschenputtel, shall we sort out the sweet peas for you?

And once again Aschenputtel replied, “The bad ones in your crop, the good ones in the pot.”

Pick, pick! Pick, pick! The work went so quickly that it was as if twelve hands did the work. When everything was finished, the doves asked, “Aschenputtel, do you want to go to the ball and dance?”

“Goodness!” she gasped. “How can I go in these dirty clothes?”

“Go to the little tree on your mother’s grave,” cooed the doves. “Give it a shake and wish for a lovely gown. But you must return before midnight!”

Aschenputtel rushed out to the little tree and called out, “Shake, shake, O little tree! Throw down lovely clothes for me!”

As soon as she had spoken the words, a splendid silver dress lay before the tree. There were also pearls, silk stockings with silver gussets, silver slippers, and all of the right accessories. Aschenputtel carried everything back to the house, and after she was clean and dressed, she was as beautiful as a rose washed by the morning dew. As she stepped through the front door, she saw a carriage with six black horses adorned with feathers. Attendants in blue and silver livery lifted her inside, and off they went at a gallop to the King’s palace.

The Prince saw the carriage at the gate and imagined that some princess he had never met had arrived. He went down the stairs himself, and when he saw Aschenputtel he lifted her out and led her into the hall. When the splendor of all the lights fell upon her, everyone was amazed. The stepsisters stood and fumed because there was a woman at the ball more lovely than they were. Yet they never imagined that it could be Aschenputtel, who they imagined was laying in the ashes at home.

The prince danced with Aschenputtel all evening. He accorded her royal honor and thought to himself, “I don’t believe I could choose any bride more perfect than this one.” Although she had lived in ashes and sadness for so very long, Aschenputtel now felt only glorious joy.

But soon midnight came! Before the clock struck twelve, she bowed to the assembly and departed. The prince begged her to stay, but Aschenputtel hurried away, leaped into the waiting carriage, and it hurried off in the same splendor with which it had arrived.

As soon as she got back home, Aschenputtel went back to the little tree on her mother’s grave and sang out, “Shake, shake, O little tree! I return these clothes to thee!” And the tree accepted the clothes back again, returning Aschenputtel’s faded gray dress. The girl returned to the kitchen, smudged some dust on her face, and lay down to sleep among the ashes.

In the morning the stepsisters returned, sullen and silent. Aschenputtel asked meekly if they had enjoyed themselves at the ball.

“No,” the sisters pouted. “Some princess was there, and the Prince would only dance with her. Nobody knew who she was or where she came from.”

“Was it she who had the splendid carriage with six matching horses?” Aschenputtel asked.

“How did you know about that?” snapped the elder sister.

“I was standing by the front door when I saw her drive by,” Aschenputtel answered.

“Well, in the future stick to your chores instead of watching people on the road,” the eldest growled.

For a third time Aschenputtel had to dress and style her stepsisters for the ball, and as a reward they gave her another enormous sack of peas to sort and clean.

“Don’t you dare stop working,” the eldest snapped over her shoulder as she flounced out the door.

“I hope the doves don’t stay away,” thought Aschenputtel, and her heart quivered. But just as on the previous evenings, the doves came!

“Shall we sort the peas for you, Aschenputtel?” the little doves asked sweetly.

“The bad ones in your crop, the good ones in the pot!” Sang out Aschenputtel with a smile on her face.

In moments, the doves had sorted the peas, and then they said, “Go back to the tree and give it a shake. You will get even prettier things to wear tonight. Go to the ball, but be careful to come home before midnight!”

Aschenputtel hurried to the tree, shook it gently, and called out, “Shake, shake, O little tree! Throw down lovely clothes for me!”

Then a dress fell down to her, and it was indeed more magnificent than the one from the night before. It was made entirely of gold and precious stones, with gold-laced stockings and golden slippers. When Aschenputtel had put it on, it shone as brightly as the midday sun. An even more splendid carriage, stood by the door, pulled by six gray horses with tall white plumes on their proud heads. Smiling servants in red and gold livery lifted her inside and she was off to the palace.

When Aschenputtel arrived at the ball, the prince was waiting for her on the stairs. He took her by the hand and led her into the hall. Once again, everyone was amazed by her loveliness, and astonished that she was somehow even more beautiful than before. The stepsisters huddled in the corner, pale with envy. If they had known that Aschenputtel was not lying in the ashes at home but was in fact the enchanting woman standing before them, they might have died of their jealousy.

The prince was desperate to know who the unknown princess was. He wished to know where she came from and where she would go to after the ball, so he sent servants to watch for her carriage when it left. He also ordered that the stairs be spread with pitch, so that she could not run away so quickly all of a sudden.

Aschenputtel danced and danced with the prince. She was lost in so much happiness that she did not watch the clock. Suddenly, even as she was dancing, she heard the bells begin to ring. Recalling the warning of the doves, Aschenputtel fled from the ball. She flew down the stairs, but because they were coated in pitch, one of her golden slippers stuck fast. Too terrified to stop, Aschenputtel left the shoe behind. As she reached the final step, the clock struck twelve. The carriage and horses had disappeared. Gone was the magnificent golden gown. Aschenputtel stood alone in the street wearing her sooty gray clothes. She hurried away before anyone saw her.

The prince, hurrying after the mysterious princess, found the golden slipper on the stairs. He pulled it free, but by the time he reached the street, the maiden was gone. The guards he had put on watch could report nothing. They had not seen the golden carriage, nor the fine gray horses.

Aschenputtel was grateful things had not gone worse. She ran home, lit her little lamp, hung it up by the chimney and lay down in the ashes. Before long, the two stepsisters returned and shouted “Aschenputtel, get up and bring us some light.”

Aschenputtel yawned and pretended that she had been asleep. She brought her little lamp just as the elder sister complained, “Goodness knows who that dratted princess is! I hope she is buried in the ground! The prince would only dance with her, and when she disappeared he refused to stay any longer, so the whole party was ruined.”

“When she left, it was as if all the lights had been blown out,” agreed the younger sister.

Aschenputtel knew the answers to all of their questions, but she didn’t say a thing.

Back at the palace, the prince thought to himself that while all of his other efforts had failed, the slipper offered one last clue to help him find the woman he hoped to make his bride.

He put out a decree: “Let it be known,” the word went out, “That the one who fits this slipper will be the prince’s wife.”

And so all of the ladies in the land tried to wear it, but it was much too small for all of them. Some would not have been able to wear the shoe even if it were twice as big as it was.

At last the stepsisters were to have their chance. They were glad to try, for they both had pretty little feet. Each sister believed she would not fail.

But first, their mother spoke to them in secret. “Listen to me,” she whispered. “Here is a knife. If the slipper is too tight for you, cut off a bit of your foot. It might hurt, but that will pass soon enough.”

The eldest took the slipper into her room. She could get her toe in, but her heel was too big. So she took the knife and cut off a piece of her heel so that she could push her foot into the shoe. She went out to the prince, and when he saw that she was wearing the slipper, he declared her to be the bride he sought. The prince led the elder sister to the carriage and began to drive away. But just as he reached the gate, the doves called out to him”

“Turn and see! Turn and see!
A bloody shoe! How can that be?
The slipper doesn’t fit at all.
Go find your true bride from the ball!”

The prince bent down and examined the slipper. Blood spurted out from it. He realized he had been cheated. He turned the carriage around and returned the false bride to her home.

But the stepmother turned to her younger daughter and said, “Take the slipper. If it doesn’t fit, cut off the front of your toes.”

So the younger sister took the slipper too her room. Her foot was also too big, so she clenched her teeth, cut off a big piece of her toe, and quickly crammed her foot into the shoe. When she emerged from her room, the Prince thought he had at last found his bride. But once again, as his carriage reached the gate, the doves cried out their warning:

“Turn and see! Turn and see!
A bloody shoe! How can that be?
The slipper doesn’t fit at all.
Go find your true bride from the ball!”

The prince looked down, and saw that the girl’s white stockings were dyed red with blood that crept upwards from her foot. He turned the carriage around, brought the girl back to her mother, and said, “This isn’t my true love either. Are there no other daughters in this house?”

“No,” the mother replied. “There is only one nasty cinderwench here. She is sitting down in the ashes, and fine slippers will never fit her.”

Yet still the prince wished to see her. The stepmother refused to call for Aschenputtel until the prince insisted. At last, Aschenputtel was summoned. When she heard that the prince was at her home, she quickly washed her face and hands. As she came into the room, the prince offered her the slipper and said, “Try it on. If it fits, you can become my wife.”

Aschenputtel removed her heavy old shoe from her left foot and put on the golden slipper. It fit as if it were made for her. She bowed to the prince, but he looked her in the face and at last was able to recognize the beautiful princess. “It is you!” he cried. “My true bride!”

The stepmother and her two arrogant daughters turned pale with rage, but the prince led Aschenputtel away and lifted her into the carriage. As they drove through the gate, the doves sang out sweetly:

“Turn and see! Turn and see!
No blood in the shoe will be
The fit is perfect – can’t you tell?
Now there will be wedding bells!”

64 – Two Grimm Cinderellas

The original 1812 edition of “Aschenputtel” was changed by the Brothers Grimm for the 1819 edition. What did they change, and why? Should one or the other be considered the “official” version, or neither?

The first edition of Kinder- und Hausmärchen by the Brothers Grimm was intended mainly for adults studying folklore. But over time, families and children became the main buyers of the book. With each edition, the Grimms altered the stories to make them more socially acceptable to 19th century parents, adding morality designed to teach children how to behave. Unlike the recent trend to posthumously censor the work of authors like Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl, Grimm’s tales were edited by their own authors. So readers can look at the multiple versions of their stories, notice what changed, and decide for themselves which version they prefer.

Accompanying this episode are two audiobooks, in which I perform my translations of the 1812 version and the 1819 version.

Activity: Two Grimm Cinderellas

This activity is best for students aged about twelve and up. Students can explain their answers in a group discussion, a short written response, or an essay.

Compare the 1812 and 1819 versions of “Aschenputtel” by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm. Write down a list of similarities and differences between the two stories. Then ask students to think about which version they prefer, paying extra attention to the ending of the story, the roles of the father and stepmother, and the punishment given to the stepsisters.

Students can consider questions such as:

  • Is it punishment enough to have the sisters watch Aschenputtel drive off with the prince as they stand on the front porch with their bleeding feet, or is it more satisfying to see the wrath of the almighty descend to take away their eyes?
  • How does the role of the father change in the two stories? Which version does a better job of showing his failings as a good father?
  • Do you think either of the versions should have showed the father and stepmother receiving some kind of punishment, or do you think the stories work well as they are?
  • Is it better for a story like “Aschenputtel” to realistically show what happens when people are cruel, with wickedness often going unnoticed, or is the story better for children when it shows good people being rewarded and bad people being punished?
  • Should either of these stories be considered the official version? If so, which one and why?

63 – Mists of Iga by Kyle Mortensen

My brother, Kyle Mortensen, died unexpectedly last week at the age of only 37. He was a wonderful storyteller. He had a singular mix of wit, sarcasm, abrasiveness, affection, and insight, and all of these things bubbled together whether he was telling a story or writing one down. Kyle spent years researching the history of the people who lived in Iga province in medieval Japan, and from this grew a meticulously crafted work of historical fiction that he self-published a few years ago with the title Mists of Iga. It was intended to be the first in a series called Sons of Yōkai. I had planned to review this book when the sequel was ready to be published, but as that will now never happen, I would like to offer this small tribute to the writing of a good man, a wonderful husband and father, and a talented writer who should have had many more years to tell his stories to us all.

The themes and characters in Mists of Iga will appeal to teenagers, who will recognize the struggle of having growing skills and knowledge, but lacking the wisdom and experience to be seen as fully adult. The novel also shows the sort of strong, healthy masculine bonds that help boys grow into good men as two older shinobi take on the role of surrogate uncles to the orphaned sons of their friend and mentor. Set amidst the chaos of Japan in 1581 as Oda Nobunaga’s forces swept across the islands in an unstoppable conquest, Mists of Iga is a stirring tale of adventure and friendship told with wit, wry humor, and the unmistakable talent of a writer who will be dearly missed.

Get your copy of Mists of Iga on Amazon. All of the profits will go to Kyle’s wife and three young sons.

You can also donate to the Kyle Mortensen Memorial Scholarship Fund, which will be invested so that his sons can afford a good education one day.

Music in this Episode

“Kōjō no Tsuki” by Taki Rentarō