87 – Cendrillon

Charles Perrault’s version of Cinderella is the most famous one worldwide, and that’s because it was the first to be widely printed, first in French and then in English. It’s also a story that is strikingly modern, from its use of the pumpkin, a new world plant, to its Enlightenment values celebrating Cinderella’s personal virtues even more highly than her beauty.

This story was first published as “Cendrillon, ou la petite pantoufle de verre”, which translates to Cinderella, or the little glass slipper. It was part of a collection called Histoires ou contes du temps passé, avec des moralités ou Contes de ma mère l’Oye. That rather wordy title translates to Stories or Tales from Past Times, with Morals or Mother Goose Tales.

Charles Perrault was an Enlightenment man through and through, from his use of explicit morals, emphasis on good character, and very enlightened position on forgiveness toward those who have behaved very badly.

Activity: The Journey of the Pumpkin

Have students research the history of the pumpkin. They should be able to answer the following questions after their studies:

  • What is the original native range of the pumpkin? On what continent was it located, and in which areas?
  • How did Native Americans make use of the pumpkin? What was the role of pumpkin and other forms of squash in a Three Sisters garden?
  • When and how did Europeans first encounter the pumpkin?
  • About when did pumpkins first arrive in Europe?
  • About how many years had passed since the arrival of the pumpkin to Europe when Charles Perrault wrote “Cendrillon?”
  • If a Cinderella story were written today, what kind of new, trendy plant could be used to be magically transformed to transport Cinderella? What kind of vehicle would it turn into?

Activity: Cendrillon’s Forgiveness

After reading “Cendrillon” by Charles Perrault, have students consider Cendrillon’s act of forgiveness toward her two wicked stepsisters. She not only forgives them but helps them to very advantageous marriages with royal courtiers. In a group discussion or as a written essay, have students reflect on the following questions:

  • Why do you think Cendrillon forgave her stepsisters?
  • Would you have treated the stepsisters in the same way? If not, how do you think the stepsisters should have been treated?
  • What advantages are there for Cendrillon to keep her stepsisters close to her at court?
  • How do you think the common people in Cendrillon’s kingdom would have viewed her actions?
  • As a princess, what kind of an example has Cendrillon set for others to follow?

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?

55 – The Italian Cinderella

“Cenerentola” by Giambattista Basile is the first Cinderella story recorded in Europe. It is not as famous as its descendants as written down by Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm, but it’s worth discovering because this Cinderella has the guts to speak up for herself, and her friendship with the fairies of the island of Sardinia help her to show the king her true worth.

The audio and text of this story is available at childrensliteraturepodcast.com/folk-tales/cenerentola/.

Activity: Where is Sardinia?

Before reading “Cenerentola,” look at a map of the Mediterranean region. Identify the island of Sardinia and its location relative to the Italian peninsula. Find a map that shows the political boundaries of nations in this part of the world during the 1600’s. Students should note that Italy was not a unified nation at this point in history, but rather a complicated patchwork of states divided between many different rulers.

After reading “Cenerentola,” discuss why it would have made sense for Cenerentola’s father to travel to Sardinia. Its position makes it easy to reach from many nations, which would make it easier for leaders of these lands to maintain friendly relations and make agreements about trade and travel. This would make it a good location for trade, which was why the father knew he would be able to find beautiful things for his stepdaughters there.

Depending on the age and interest of the student, further research could be conducted on Sardinia’s geographical traits as well as its importance to politics and trade during the Renaissance.

Activity: Punishment or Forgiveness?

400 years ago in Renaissance Italy, kings and queens would have had a lot of power. It would have been possible for them to give any sort of reward or punishment. In “Cenerentola,” a prince badly mistreats his daughter. Later, the young king marries her. As the new queen, Zezolla would have had the power to do whatever she liked to her father, stepmother, and stepsisters, all of whom mistreated her.

After reading “Cenerentola” with your kids, ask one or more of the following questions. Answers may come through a discussion, as a short written response, or in an essay.

      • If you were Queen Zezolla, would you consider punishing your wicked family members? Would you consider any punishment for them? Anything would be possible; banishment from court, loss of lands or titles, fines, imprisonment, banishment from the land, or even death.
      • Would you consider forgiving your rotten relatives? Would it be foolish to be too forgiving, or would it show nobility?
      • What actions, if any, could Zezolla’s family members take to make up for how they have behaved?
      • Do you think Queen Zezolla’s subjects would approve of her punishing or forgiving her cruel family members?

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.