The Rough-Face Girl written by Rafe Martin, illustrated by David Shannon is a reworking of an Algonquin Indian Cinderella. I myself have a trace of Cherokee, and while these two tribes are different -what it all comes down to, is that here in the Americas we too have our own Cinderella story. Rafe Martin puts it eloquently when he states in the Author’s Note at the beginning of his book: “Grown on native soil, its mystery is rooted in our own place”
This version of Cinderella takes place on the shore of Lake Ontario. A handsome Invisible Being lived in the largest wigwam, along with the only person who could see him – his sister. You can imagine that where there is a handsome, rich man there are women who are throwing themselves at his feet to marry him. His sister makes the pronouncement: See him, marry him!
In another wigwam in that same village lived a father and his three daughters. His older two daughters hated their younger sister and forced her to do the hardest chores. She tended the fire, thus marking her skin and face, and charring her long black hair.
Well, obviously the sisters wanted to marry the Invisible Being so they got some new duds and marched off to see if they can pass the test. The Invisible Being’s sister asks each girl who approaches if they have seen her brother. You can imagine their consternation. I mean he IS the INVISIBLE Being. What do you think they say? Yup, they lie, of course they’ve seen him. They are asked two special questions to prove their claim: What’s his bow made of? What’s the runner of his sled made of? You can imagine the answers that she receives. They fail the test!
The next day Rough-Face Girl asks her father for new clothes. He sadly tells her that he used all the good materials on her sisters. All he has left are broken shells, his old pair of moccasins. She gladly takes them and with some reeds, and birch bark and creates her wedding trousseaux.
She then bravely walks through the village as the villagers laugh and point. My favorite part of the book is her response to this bullying. “But the Rough-Face Girl had faith in herself and she had courage.” (Martin, 1992, pg. 16) I admire her courage in the face of brutality. I hope that my own children will have this type courage and faith as they go through the rigors of life.
Rough-Face Girl takes her time walking, pausing to look at the beauty of the earth surrounding her. In this beauty she saw the “sweet yet awesome beauty of the Invisible Being.” (pg. 19). Finally she arrives at the beach and is welcomed by the sister. This wise woman is able to look past Rough-Face Girl’s clothing, her charred hair, and her disfigured face and sees her soul. It was almost as if she knew that THIS was the right girl for her brother.
Rough-Face Girl is asked the same questions all other women are asked, yet this time she is able to answer the questions and passes the test with flying colors. Not only that but when the Invisible Being walks into the wigwam later he recognizes Rough-Face Girl, as she does him. I appreciate that the heroine in this story is not beautiful, in the “normal” sense of beauty. She has that something special that I want for my own daughter. Confidence in herself, she doesn’t throw a tantrum when her father can’t give her the best beads and clothes, she is observant of the world around her, and takes the beauty of the world into her heart. Granted, magic is used to restore her to beauty, but that isn’t what makes the Invisible Being love her. He saw the beauty of her heart.
The art work in this book brings the words to life. For the most part, on the left page is text, the right page depicts an important part of the story. They depict Algonquin life, the beauty of the earth, and sentiment of the story.