I found this gem of a book in the library about 2 years ago as I put together my first Cinderella Unit. I’m not sure what drew me to it, the cover didn’t give any hint that the book was a Cinderella story. I just opened it up and read it. My heart began to race. On accident I found a book that would fit right into my unit.
Set in Poland, “once upon a time”, Raisel lived with her Zaydeh (Yiddish word for Grandfather). He was the village Talmudic Scholar. She loved to learn along with him, and this pleased Zaydeh, as “it is written that learning is more precious than rubies, more lasting than gold. Rubies may be lost and gold stolen, but that which you learn is yours forever” (Silverman, 1999).
Her grandfather dies, and not wanting to be a burden on her village she leaves to find work in the city. Eventually she ends up knocking on the door of a local Rabbi. The housekeeper greets her rudely and starts to turn her away. The Rabbi interrupts the housekeeper and encourages the housekeeper to hire her – as there is much to do around the house and he thinks she needs the help. The housekeeper doesn’t take this kindly, as she is fearful that Raisel is there to steal her job.
Time soon approaches for the Purim celebration (Jewish holiday celebrating Esther) and the housekeeper (in keeping with the Cinderella theme) works her to the bone. Raisel is running around the morning of the celebration and ends up bumping into the Rabbi’s son. Later, at the afternoon meal, Raisel listens to the guests (okay, the girls) telling riddles to the son (he is a scholar, and they are trying to catch his eye – I see a similarity between Raisel’s Riddle and Rough-Face Girl!!!) as she serves.
Once the guests leave she continues to work, and eventually heads outside to eat her own meager meal. There she voices out loud her desire to join in the festivities. Guess who appears? Yup, her very own fairy godmother! In return for sharing her skimpy meal she receives three wishes.
Obviously she makes it to the festival and starts up a conversation with the Rabbi’s son. Can you guess what captures his attention? Her beauty? Her small feet? Nope! She quotes the Talmud and asks him the most interesting riddle. Before he learns the answer the clock strikes twelve and our Jewish Cinderella disappears. Later Raisel learns that he will marry the girl who showed “rare intelligence” at the Purim celebration by sharing a riddle. Inevitably she tells him her riddle and he asks her to marry him.
My favorite part of the book is her response. You’ll have to go to the library or buy the book on your own to find it out! My only quibble with the book is this: What happened to the housekeeper? I mean really? In Yeh-Shen her stepmother and stepsister end up crushed by rocks, the servants in The Egyptian Cinderella stay servants, etc, etc!
I think this is my second most favorite version of Cinderella that I have as of yet encountered! I loved the lifelike illustrations by Susan Gaber. I look forward to my picture walk with the kiddos, and I suspect that both kiddos will “attend” this book without needing to break it down into preschool chunks for them as I have to do for some of the other versions we are studying.
What I love, love, love about this book is that beauty is not the end all, be all! Someone with a mind is the ideal woman for the “prince” of the story. I think this has more to do with the fact that it was written after the advent of women’s suffrage and equality! I would love to hear your opinion on that fact.
Originally published in 1999, it does a wonderful job of depicting a rather unique twist to the fairy tale I grew up with, and loved. This wonderful book received quite a few awards and recognitions including:
Notable Books for a Global Society, International Reading Association;
Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts, National Council of Teachers of English;
Wilde Awards: Best Folk and Fairy Tales