From the Algonquins, a Cinderella story


April 30, 1993|By Molly Dunham Glassman | Molly Dunham Glassman,Staff Writer

In his author's note at the beginning of "The Rough-Face Girl," Rafe Martin writes that the 1,500 or so versions of the Cinderella story have kept alive "the universal yearning for justice."

Who doesn't root for good (pure-hearted Cinderella) to triumph over evil (her vain, bullying stepsisters)? It explains why it is perhaps the most popular folk tale of all time, preserved in different forms over the centuries by people of all cultures.

History will show that during our blip on the screen of civilization, Walt Disney's was the definitive version. But if you want to buck popular culture -- and get away from the stereotypes that stepfamilies are terrible and that a young woman's goal in life should be to win a man whose only attributes are power and

looks -- here is an alternative.

"The Rough-Face Girl," written by Mr. Martin and illustrated by David Shannon (Putnam, $14.95, ages 5 to 10) is based on an Algonquin Indian legend. Mr. Martin is a professional storyteller who collects tales worldwide, and he extracted this Cinderella story from a more complex Algonquin legend.

The title character is the youngest of three daughters. Her older sisters make her tend the fire, and her hands, arms and face have become scarred and rough. Her sisters taunt her, "You're ** ugly, you Rough-Face Girl!"

The two beautiful sisters are determined to marry the Invisible Being, a supposedly handsome man who lives with his sister in the village. But in order to marry him, they have to prove to his sister that they have seen him.

When the Invisible Being's sister tests them, they have to make up descriptions of him. Even when he enters the wigwam, they can't see him. They go home, ashamed.

Meanwhile, the Rough-Face Girl tells her father that she is going to marry the Invisible Being, "for wherever I look, I see his face." As she walks through the countryside, we see him, too, in "the great beauty of the earth and skies spreading before her."

The vision and faith in her heart prove her worthy, and she marries a spirit far more potent than a pompous prince. Mr. Shannon's dark, handsome paintings are the perfect accompaniment, rich with mystery and drama.

* Anyone interested in Native American stories should check out the work of Paul Goble. His stylized illustrations are immediately recognizable -- bold, two-dimensional watercolors of animals, plants and Plains Indians -- and many of his books are now available in Aladdin paperback editions, including the 1979 Caldecott Medal winner, "The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses."

One of his latest paperback releases is "The Great Race" (Aladdin, $4.95, ages 5 to 10). Based on Cheyenne and Sioux myth, it explains how it came to be that man ate buffalo.

When the world was still new, it seems, buffalo used to eat humans (the long hair on their chins is the hair of the people they gobbled up). The Creator heard the humans' cries for help, and he set up a great race between Buffalo (with all the four-legged animals on her side), and a young man (with all the birds, who had two legs like humans, on his side).

Through the course of the race, which took several days, the rest of the animals drop out. "Rattlesnake ate Toad, then curled up to sleep. . . . Mole and Gopher tunneled along underground, and they still think the race is on."

As the human and Buffalo approach the finish line, it looks like Buffalo will pull away with ease. But Magpie, one of the man's feathered allies, wins with a clever strategy, and humans become the guardians of nature.

* Another beautiful book based on Native American legend is "The Woman Who Outshone the Sun" from a poem by Alejandro Cruz Martinez, story by Rosalma Zubizarreta, Harriet Rohmer and David Schecter, illustrated by Fernando Olivera (Children's Book Press, $13.95, ages 7 and up).

It tells the story of Lucia Zenteno, who is part of the oral history of the Zapotec Indians of Oaxaca, Mexico. Lucia walks into a village one day. She is so beautiful that people say she outshines the sun. Others say her long, flowing hair blocks out the light, and they are afraid of her.

The older villagers say Lucia understands the ways of nature and should be respected. But other people scorn her because she is different, and they rile up their neighbors and drive Lucia from the village.

She leaves sadly, stopping by her beloved river to say goodbye. The water rises from its bed, flows through her hair and won't return to its bed, leaving "a serpent of sand where the river had been." Not until they're faced with drought do the villagers apologize to Lucia, begging her to return.

She is compassionate and teaches them "to treat everyone with kindness, even those who seem different from you." Mr. Olivera is from Oaxaca, a region of Mexico known for its artists, and his illustrations are gorgeous. The story is written in English and Spanish -- a winning feature of many titles by Children's Book Press.

* It has been open just six months, but Stepping Stone Children's Books in downtown Bel Air already offers much more than the usually browsing and buying. There are frequent story times, open houses and other activities for kids, including a recent writing workshop for middle school students.

Mary Claire Helldorfer, a Baltimore writer whose books include "The Mapmaker's Daughter," "Sailing to the Sea," "Daniel's Gift" and "The Darling Boys," will be at the store on May 15 from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. She will sign books and give a reading from her latest book, "Cabbage Rose." For more information. call (410) 638-9001.

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