Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Fairytale Hairdresser And Cinderella by Abie Longstaff, illustrated by Lauren Beard, reviewed by Pippa Goodhart

The great classic fairytales belong to us all; there to be told or sung or drawn or danced or written or thought in whatever way suits us and/or our audience at any particular moment in history or in our individual personal lives.  There is room for the sinister, the funny, the cute, the simple, the analytical, or the provocative angles to be taken on all the great tales.  No single version is the best version for us all, all of the time.  It’s that adaptability that makes them such rich material, and has let them last over the centuries. 

Abie Longstaff’s second Fairytale Hairdresser book is based on the story of Cinderella, but it also enjoys visual references to lots of other tales and nursery rhymes.  Can you spot the Pied Piper, the Three Little Pigs, White Rabbit, Bo Peep, the Cat and the Fiddle, Humpty Dumpty, Jack and his Cow, the Old Lady Who Lived In A Shoe, Aladdin, Jack and Jill, the Princess and the Frog, Kittens in Mittens, the Princess and the Pea, Pinochio, three Blind Mice, Tom Thumb, Hansel and Gretel, and many more, all busily living in this fairytale town?   This version of the Cinderella story is predominantly pink in its looks, and it has tactile sparkly bits on the cover.  That is going to attract a certain kind of reader, mainly small girls.  And why not?  Small girls’ preferences are as valid as the dull academic who wants obscure historical text only.  As valid as the boys who want snot and underpant versions of their tales, or earnest parents who want wholesomeness at the expense of fun, or those who want to riff with the wording and enjoy a particular aural quality over story sense.  Fairytales should NOT be fossilised in any one form.  They should be lived in ways relevant to their readers, and this author and illustrator team have achieved that brilliantly well for an audience of modern children. 

            When a royal ball is announced Kitty the hairdresser knows that her services are going to be in demand, so she takes on a new Saturday Girl – Cinderella.  Cinderella is good at doing all the menial jobs, of course, and soon learns how to cope with dwarf beards, wolf stubble and lambs in need of bows.  Her hard work is rewarded with a twinkly glass hairclip.  When rushing around the palace to get the Queen’s hair into a right royal ‘do’ for the ball, that hairclip gets dropped, and picked-up by ….Prince Charming.  The twist here is that the prince falls for Cinderella when she is just her ordinary self in a ragged skirt, rather than the magically enhanced ball beauty of the traditional tale.  Good old Kitty helps Cinderella to find a fancier outfit before the ball (children are going to enjoy the very different fashion possibilities played with before a decision is made!).  The Prince and Cinderella manage to miss each other at the ball, until a glint on that glass hair slide catches his eye, and the swooningly romantic sepia image of the rest of the ball falling away as the spotlight literally falls on the couple, leading over the page to the ultimate tactile sparkly flowery heart-shaped butterfly fluttering setting for the bride and groom who will of course live Happily Ever After … because the Prince now helps Cinderella out in her work at the hair salon, and we leave him sweeping up hair from the floor.  This story is great fun, but it also raises interesting questions for young minds to ponder.

            If you’d like to see the thought-processes that went into creating this story, do click through to read Abie’s blog on the Picture Book Den where she charts the whole process.



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