- Hardcover: 48 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (28 Sept. 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0689873999
- ISBN-13: 978-0689873997
- Product Dimensions: 23.5 x 1 x 28.6 cm
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,430,512 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Ella's Big Chance: A Jazz-Age Cinderella (Kate Greenaway Medal) Hardcover – 28 Sep 2004
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More About the Author
Her first book - Lucy and Tom's Day - was published in 1960, and she followed it with, among others, Dogger and the Alfie series. Shirley Hughes has won the Other Award, the Eleanor Farjeon Award, and the Kate Greenaway Medal for Illustration twice, for Dogger in 1977 and for Ella's Big Chance in 2003. In 2007 Dogger was voted the public's favourite Greenaway winner of all time. Shirley received an OBE in 1999 for services to Children's Literature.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
It didn't take long to discover the sweep and style of the 1920's, for Hughes' 2-page opening title shows a glossy ballroom floor, inhabited by a small jazz band, self-assured men in tuxedoes and tails, fashionable women in full length gowns (plunging either in front or back), and a white-coated "manservant" offering martinis. (Zelda, we have arrived!) As the story begins, pictures show the middle and under classes, and the scornful looks of the social "betters." The latter are dressed in chiffon, feathers, fancy hats, and jewelry, and a man sports a pinstripe suit with a rose boutonnière and impeccable black and white spats. You can sense the texture of their clothes, just as you can feel the conflicting attitudes of the haves and have-nots. I cheated and looked at the endpaper: The rich colors come from gouache, accented and shaded with pen. In addition (and, as noted by another reviewer), Hughes' original dress designs were inspired by 1920's French couture; her ballroom scenes by the décor and set designs of the glorious RKO-produced Astaire/Rogers musicals. The book's remaining pictures convey emotion (especially in cinematic-like close-ups), dramatic lighting, subtle and grand action, and swirls of gorgeous, opulent color. Hughes captures the look of money and the face of disenfranchisement with equal magnificence.
OK, so I'm completely sold on the pictures. What about the story? As you may have gathered, the Cinderella here is "Ella Cinder," a comely woman who's an expert helper in her father's dress shop. When she can, she laughs with almost- boyfriend "Buttons." As for the scornful women mentioned above, they're her dad's new wife (Cinder's stepmother) and her daughters (the stepsisters!). The stepmother takes over running the shop, the stepsisters model, lounge about, and call Cinder names, and Cinder herself has to work harder than ever. Mr. Cinders is a broken man in this power play, and he can do nothing to help his daughter.
Buttons, however, scrappy American that he is, "stays on the job for [Cinder's] sake." "Privately he called the [stepsisters] a couple of puffed-up, made-up, stuck-up, brainless parakeets." He also plays his guitar" in Ella's ratty basement room, and sometimes, "they even danced together...moving softly in and out among the bales of cotton." This is pure literary magic, Hughes' words and pictures mesh like a slow dance; they're consistently evocative and note-perfect.
I'll now cut to the chase of this modernized (to a point) fairy tale: An elite ball is planned, and the stepsisters scoff at the neglected Cinder. Very soon, however, an efficient yellow-hatted woman with a purple umbrella (her wand, it turns out) does her magic, and Ella turns into the Queen of the Jazz Age, the Belle of the Ball, and the Delight of the Duke who dances with her. Hughes wisely keeps the stroke of twelve and missing slipper motifs, but like any good 1920's film, Ella turns down the rich duke for her true love, Buttons, who can promise only his winning and constant love, a dream of owning their own shop, and his famous bacon and eggs. This book from 2003 is a complete delight, excelling in every conceivable way, and it's hard to imagine any child (or adult) not enjoying and treasuring it immensely.
Note: The book is so cinematic in illustration, plot, and dialogue, that I'm already having fun casting a hypothetical "movie": Perhaps director Frank Capra (or George Cukor) would insist on a dulled-down Carole Lombard as "Cinder"; Stewart , Cagney, or a relatively new, "nice guy" actor as "Buttons," and S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall or Lionel Barrymore as the beleaguered father. Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell would reprise their cat-fighting roles from "The Women," with Katherine Hepburn (cast against type) or Bette Davis as the (wicked) stepmother, and Franchot Tone or Leslie Howard as romantically tragic Duke. Indulge yourself as I did, and buy this book for a child, and, especially, for yourself.
It is set in the 1920's and Ella is a garment maker, in her fathers elegant little dress shop. When her father remarries she gets a horrible new step-mom and two step sisters, suitably nasty.
"His new wife seemed
to pop up from nowhere like
a sharp-eyed, expensively
Ella has a dear friend named Buttons, who makes life easier for her by keeping her company as she stays up late sewing, making her laugh and singing her songs.
The funny thing about Buttons to me is he looks like he MUST be an Aussie, and uses words like "brainless parakeets" which seems to prove the authors intention. He looks like a young mel gibson, fresh from the set of Gallipoli, and it's quite amusing. One of the wonderful things the author has done is make this book so quirky.
Ella doesn't have a perfect sylph-like figure merely hidden by soot, instead she's redheaded, with corky curls and a plump little body, which when tucked into a more suitable gown, looks just fine.
It's her personality which wins the Duke over and brings him around begging for her hand. And dear Ella takes a good look around her and realises that it's Buttons she really want's, and they take off, and set up their own dress shop.
The illustrations are fantastic, and as written in the back of the book, the ball scenes were inspired by the dance sequences in the R.K.O. Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies.
The dresses are Shirley Hughes original designs, inspired by the French couturiers of the 1920's, Doucet, Poiret and Patou.
Just love it.
Ages 8+ would most appreciate this book, although certainly any age will happily sit through it.
For you it makes an entertaing bedtime story.
For them, the same, and a little twist to the regular fairytale.
Kotori Nov 2004
Mr Cinders and his daughter Ella run a dress shop, along with their delivery boy Buttons (who almost always appears as the narrator in any production of a pantomime Cinderella). They are a happy family, but all that changes when Mr Cinders marries Madame Renee, who has two daughters of her own: Ruby and Pearl. Ella's new stepfamily takes over her existence, reducing her to a servant in her own home. Her only ally is Buttons with whom she has a warm and kind friendship.
Then the news arrives that the handsome Duke of Arc is having a ball. You all know what happens next: Ella is denied an invitation, a fairy godmother transforms her rags, and Ella makes her magnificent debut. The clock strikes twelve, Ella flees and the Duke begins his search for her, using the glass slipper she left behind as his guide.
One might at this stage think that this is simply another rehash of the Cinderella tale; if you've read one, you've read them all. But Shirley Hughes' version differs in several key ways. First is the setting; Parisian France in the 1920's, where the streets are quaint and sunlit, a silver limousine takes the place of the pumpkin carriage, the dancing mirrors that of Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astaire, and the costumes are the quintessential gowns of Doucet, Poiret and Patou. It is a visual feast for the eyes, romantic and glamorous.
Second is Ella's physique. Whereas her stepsisters are slender and lovely (not *ugly* stepsisters at all), Ella herself is a little on the voluptuous side - and she looks fantastic. It's a great step up from the stick-figures that frequent children's fairytales, especially those targeted toward girls.
Lastly are several story elements; such as the fact that Ella's father does not pass away but remains a hen-pecked husband who is powerless to rescue his daughter. Then there is Hughes' delightful interpretation of the fairy godmother, as an umbrella-wielding granny with a secret plan for Ella. Most important of all is the twist regarding Buttons - I won't give it away (though you've probably already guessed what it is now that I've mentioned it). I'll say no more except that it's great.
So that's Shirley Hughes's Cinderella retelling, a fantastic reading experience that everyone (especially your daughters) will love, with several subtle but truthful messages on *real* beauty, *real* kindness and *real* happiness.