30 – A Cinderella Story from Ancient China

“Ye Xian” is a story first published over 1,000 years ago, but it follows the familiar pattern of Cinderella stories from all over the world. People often mistakenly think that Cinderella stories are just about pretty dresses, going to parties, and depending on a man instead of taking care of yourself. But what these stories are really about is social and economic power, featuring wise young women who make the best choices available to them to escape from a bad life into a better one.

This story contains many classic elements of a Cinderella tale — an orphaned young woman mistreated by abusive relatives, magical assistance to help her enter the world of the wealthy and powerful, and finally an escape from her desperate existence due to her own good virtues. There’s even a missing shoe!

The story can be understood easily by modern readers, but learning a little about traditional Chinese beliefs and the symbolism of certain colors and animals can help readers have a deeper appreciation for this charming story from long ago.

If your kids want to hear the story of “Ye Xian” on its own, it can be found on the Folk Tales page with other stories from around the world.

Activity: What Can Modern Builders Learn from a Yaodong?

As land grows more expensive, houses become more difficult and costly to build, and building materials have to be shipped ever longer distances,  home ownership becomes unrealistic for more and more people. We ought to consider ways that houses can be made less expensive, create less pollution, and cause less long-term damage to our world. Sometimes it helps to look back in order to know the best path forward.

The setting for “Ye Xian” is in an area where people lived in a type of home called a yaodong. The word directly means “house cave,” but these are not natural caves. They are comfortable homes cut from rock using very old and very effective engineering techniques. Students can investigate the ways a traditional Chinese yaodong might help builders create modern homes that are beautiful, comfortable, affordable, and don’t damage the environment.

Have students search for images of traditional and modern yaodongs. There are two styles, both usually cut from a kind of terrain called loess. The most common style is cut directly into a natural hillside. Another style involves excavating a square pit, shaping it into a courtyard, and then cutting caves into the walls. Students can research the engineering of both styles of yaodong, comparing the traits and advantages of each style. Students can learn about the following concepts in building:

Insulation – Cave homes keep a steady temperature because rock does not heat up or cool down quickly.
Energy efficiency – Cave homes use less fuel to keep people warm or cool because of the cave’s good insulation. This saves money and reduces pollution.
Soundproofing – Cave homes are quiet because sound waves don’t travel very well through rock.
Weatherproofing – Cave homes, when built correctly, do not let water or wind into the home.
Sustainable – Because cave homes are carved directly out of rock, very few building materials need to be brought in from other places. The excavated stone can be crushed into gravel for roads or used as building blocks for other structures. This saves money and means less pollution is created by making building materials and transporting them to construction sites. Fewer trees need to be cut down to build a yaodong, since wood might only be used for doors, window frames, or furniture.

The results of research can be shared in a written report, class presentation, video, or art project.

17 – Rocky: A Cinderella Story

This is a bonus episode of the Children’s Literature Podcast, inspired by a challenge from listener Pedro, who wrote in to say “In the Cinderella show you said Rocky is a Cinderella story. I don’t buy it. Change my mind.” A few months ago in my episode called “What is a Cinderella Story” I gave examples of tales that fit the basic pattern of a Cinderella tale. Sometimes you find them in unexpected places, such as the 1976 film Rocky. That’s not a book for children, but I love Rocky films so much that I will take any excuse I can to talk about them. So congratulations, Pedro. You baited me.

Fairy tales aren’t just for kids — we grownups need them too. So let’s revisit the characteristics of a Cinderella story as found in the tale of a drudge from the streets of Philly who gets one chance to dance with a handsome prince and seizes his destiny.

Let me know if I’ve changed your mind, Pedro!

3 – Cindy Feller: An Old West Fairy Tale

In this bonus episode, listen to an original story by TQ Townsend and Chloë Townsend. Adding to the Cinderella tradition, this tale takes you to the Old West, where a gal named Cindy has to outfox her nasty stepsisters Maybelle and Azeline and her rotten stepma, Madame Lurleen. With gumption and help from loyal friends, Cindy finds her way to a fancy shindig and finds the courage to stand up for herself, her farm, and her family.

Cindy Feller: An Old West Fairy Tale is a production of The Children’s Literature Podcast. Story by TQ Townsend and Chloë Townsend. Performed and produced by TQ Townsend. Copyright 2022. All Rights Reserved.

This audiobook may be used free of charge by teachers and parents in non-profit educational settings. Commercial use is prohibited without permission.

2 – What is a Cinderella Story?

Cinderella stories are the oldest in the world, and are found in every culture. In the first episode in a series, learn about the basic structure of Cinderella stores, why they are mostly about young women, and how to write your own Cinderella story.

Activity: Write Your Own Cinderella Story

In this activity, students will write their own Cinderella story. Students should first read or listen to “Cendrillon” as told by Charles Perrault, as this is the most commonly known version of the Cinderella story today. Links to text and audio of the stories is below:

“Cendrillon” by Charles Perrault (Abridged)

“Cendrillon, or the Little Glass Slipper” by Charles Perrault (Full Version)

If there is time, have students also study the version by the Brothers Grimm:

“Aschenputtel” as collected by the Brothers Grimm (Abridged)

“Aschenputtel” as collected by the Brothers Grimm (Full Version)

After reading or hearing the story, ask students to outline the major plot points of a Cinderella story. This can be done as a class, in small groups, or individually, and should roughly include the following:

    • Cinderella is socially, economically, and physically trapped
    • The cruel Stepmother is the main antagonist who uses her power to abuse Cinderella, and she encourages the Stepsisters to also be cruel to her
    • A special event offers Cinderella one chance to be noticed and appreciated, but it seems unlikely that she will be able to make it
    • A Fairy Godmother gives Cinderella the help she needs to get to the event, although the transformation is only temporary
    • Now that Cinderella is able to be part of society, her  good qualities impress everyone, including the most important person there
    • Cinderella must flee the event to avoid being discovered, but leaves behind a clue as to her identity
    • The important person seeks out Cinderella using the clue and finds her
    • Cinderella is rescued and will now live a safe and happy life away from her abusers
    • The stepmother and stepsisters are punished or forgiven

Stories do not need to exactly follow this pattern, and there can be many interpretations of what counts as an “Evil Stepmother,” “Ugly Stepsister,” or “Fairy Godmother.” Stories can be magical or realistic in nature, and the “Prince” character does not automatically have to be a romantic partner for Cinderella.

Provide each student a copy of the following worksheet, which will help in planning a new Cinderella-type story:

PDF: Cinderella Story Worksheet

Students can work alone, in small groups, or as a large group to outline with a new twist on Cinderella. Encourage students to consider an unusual historical or fictional setting, such as science fiction or a location in the world far away in time and place from medieval Europe. Some students may wish to set their story within the world of a novel or a video game that they like, using characters that they are already familiar with.

After planning stories using the worksheet, students can then write their Cinderella story. Stories can be shared with fellow students and then collected into a volume, to be placed in a family or school library.