REVIEW: Ella’s Big Chance – A Jazz Age Cinderella by Shirley Hughes
Dear Ms. Hughes,
A few months ago, I was looking to buy another retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale and your book, “Ella’s Big Chance – A Jazz Age Cinderella” was recommended to me at the same time. Intrigued by the setting and cover illustration, I bought it as well. Though I love the Cinderella story, I acknowledge it has its drawbacks – namely that though the heroine gets a man who loves her, he seems to have trouble recognizing her without her footwear. Your version takes that into consideration and then goes it one better.
Mr. Cinders might be a talented dressmaker with a nice little shop but his red headed daughter Ella is the true artiste in silk and satin. Together with delivery boy Buttons, they make sure the store is always bustling. One day, Mr. Cinders married a widow with two daughters of her own. Soon though, Pearl and Ruby along with their mother, begin to behave spitefully to Ella – forcing her to work long hours making beautiful clothes and to move into the basement with no one but Buttons and an old grey cat for company. Hen pecked Mr. Cinders seemed unable to do or change anything.
One day, the Duchess of Arc swept into the store and was fussed over and flattered by Mrs. Cinders as she watched Ruby and Pearl model the beautiful dresses. Soon an invitation to a grand ball to be held by the Duchess arrived at the store. Poor Ella had to work harder than ever on dresses for her step-mother and step-sisters then got left behind when the rest of the family left for the big event. Disheartened, she cried into the grey cat’s fur.
But a tap on her door brought her out to the kitchen where Buttons promised to cook her a meal. Suddenly a stranger arrived – an older lady who announced that she is a Fairy Godmother. With a tap of her furled umbrella, she turned Buttons’s delivery bike into a shiny grey limousine and the cat into a uniformed chauffeur. Then she sketched a shape in the air and Ella’s shabby black dress was transformed into a glittering flapper gown. Off to the ball Ella went with instructions on when the magic would wear out.
There she dazzled the Duchess’s son the Duke with her lively wit and infectious sense of fun. Time flew until the striking clock called Ella back to reality. Fleeing away, all she left was a glass shoe before the magic wore off, leaving her to push the bike back to the shop while the disgruntled cat made his own way home.
Determined to find this stranger who touched his heart and enchanted him as no other had ever done, the Duke set off to find her. Finally he arrived at the dress shop but neither Ruby nor Pearl could force a foot into the glass shoe. About to leave, he spied Ella in the shadows. At last he’d found her! But will everything go according to fairy tale plan?
As soon as I began to read the book, I could tell that it would be different. Mr. Cinders is present throughout the whole story but once he’d made his colossal marriage blunder, frankly I wanted to give him a swift kick in the pants. Being milquetoast is one thing but watching your beloved daughter’s life be made a misery is another.
Still, the setting and the fantastic illustrations of jazz age fashion – and I can tell why these won you your second Kate Greenaway Medal – kept me going. Plus Ella isn’t the standard wafer thin, “oh, all she needs are nice clothes” beautiful. Ella has a lovely mop of red hair and is, to put it gently, a little plump. A plumb Cinderella? Yes, indeed and she’s cute as a bug’s ear. She also knows her own mind and isn’t afraid to stick to what she wants. And here is where I fell in love with this book.
All through the story, I felt a little off. There is a character here not usually in the standard story and as Ella heads off to the ball to dance the night away and charm the Duke, I was uneasy. Okay, if Ella and the Duke fall in love and get married, it’ll be alright but …. but ….something just didn’t feel right. Until you made it right with a neat change to the story which had me grinning from ear to ear. Ella got her man and has wonderful plans for a future – including the grumpy, grey cat – and I couldn’t be happier about them or the way the story ends. Brava! A
I love Shirley Hughes. Her depictions of family life are so warm and real. Her books were among my favorites to read with my kids.
An “A.” Heavens, I’m interested.
Did they really wear flapper dresses to a ball? I would have thought elegant gowns were still de rigueur.
Phew, you had me worried about the wrong man until the last few lines.
When I read the combination Ella and jazz age at the start I was hoping for Ella Fitzgerald, I have to admit ^^.
@Darlynne: Well, at this ball Hughes has them wearing flapper gowns.
Shirley Hughes & Pauline Baines illustrated my childhood -sigh ! :)
Well Jayne if you liked this .Please get your hands on a copy of The Twelve Days of Christmas by Jenny Overton & illustrated by Shirley Hughes, and if you have small children,you must,must must get Shirley Hughes’ delightfully funny and sweet Alfie books.
Right – I’m off to find my Shirley Hughes’
@Liz Mc2: @cate: You two have me eager to look for more Hughes books. Any specific others I should check out?
@Jayne: I agree with cate that you can’t go wrong with any one of the Alfie books. As a North American reader, I loved the slightly exotic-to-me details of British life (tea time! terraced houses! the detail of her illustrations is just wonderful). “Alfie Gets in First” is a favorite, and in our family, since we have a big brother and little sister, we loved “Annie Rose Is My Little Sister.” “Dogger,” which is a non-Alfie book, is a classic kid + beloved stuffed toy story.
@Jayne: There are lots of Alfie books – I loved Alfies Feet, Alfie and the Big Boys, Rhymes for Annie Rose – & – not an Alfie book, – The Lion and the Unicorn. And as Liz Mc2 mentioned it, I strongly second Alfie Gets in First
And I deserve a slap for forgetting to mention -My Naughty Little Sister – those stories still make me chuckle !
@Jayne: I’ve just had time to read the review properly and this struck me
“All through the story, I felt a little off. There is a character here not usually in the standard story and as Ella heads off to the ball to dance the night away and charm the Duke, I was uneasy” –
I assume you mean Buttons ? Any British child who’s gone to a pantomime will recognise Buttons instantly as Cinder’s BFF, we know that he’s not going to get the girl, and we love him anyway.
The late great Elizabeth Thornton gave her Buttons AKA Flynn – a former footman his own novella “The Trouble With Angels “; a follow up to her fab Dangerous To Love – wherein he made his Cinders/Serena’s path far smoother than it would have been.
@cate: Yes, I mean Buttons. But you might – or might not – be surprised by who gets the girl in this version.
Might not :)