Monday, September 24, 2007

The Rough-Face Girl

Martin, Rafe. 1992. The Rough-Face Girl. Ill. by David Shannon. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. ISBN 0698116267

Plot Summary
This is a Cinderella tale set in the Algonquin Indian tribes of North America. The Rough-Face Girl is mistreated by her sisters and is literally scarred by their meanness. The Rough-Face Girl must "sit by the fire and feed the flames" and as the branches burn, she is burned by the sparks. The Invisible Being lived in this village and all the young women wanted to marry him. The Invisible Being's sister told that whoever could see her brother would marry him. As fate has it, the Rough-Faced Girl does see the Invisible Being and is able to answer his sister's questions. The sister gives the Rough-Faced Girl the finest buckskin robes and a perfect shell necklace, and the Rough-Faced Girl transforms to be as beautiful on the outside as she is on the inside. She then marries the Invisible Being, and they live "happily ever after."

Critical Analysis
This book surprised me. I expected the girl to become beautiful before meeting the Invisible Being, but she doesn't change until after meeting him. I like the message of this version better than the Cinderella story I grew up with--one does not need to be beautiful on the outside for others to see the beauty within.

Instead of a fairy godmother to help, the Rough-Face Girl relies upon herself. She asks for buckskin, moccasins and beads from her father. He provides what he can, and she is satisfied. The illustration on this page is heartbreaking. The father is obviously giving everything he can to his daughter, and his facial expressions show his distress that he cannot give her more.

Because this is a traditional folktale, the plot is simple and predictable. The reader knows that the mistreated sister will marry the "handsome prince," and the couple will live "happily ever after," but there is some doubt raised because of the Invisible Being's sister's questions. The reader is not certain the Rough-Face Girl will be able to answer the questions. The Rough-Face Girl is able to answer the sister's questions because she sees the Invisible Being in the natural world around her.

Almost throughout the book, the text appears on the left side, giving the entire right side of the book to powerful illustrations.

David Shannon does a remarkable job capturing the details of the Indian tribe (specifically their dress). The moods created by the illustrations offer more to the story. In the opening pages of the book, the illustrations seem clouded as if the reader is landing into this magical place. When the Rough-Face Girl is going to see the Invisible Being's sister and the villagers are laughing at her appearance and audacity of seeking the Invisible Being, Shannon covers the Rough-Face Girl's face with her hair. To me, this is symbolic of the Rough-Face Girl not focusing on what others think and say. She is setting out on her own journey.

I really enjoyed the two page illustration where the Rough-Face Girl is on her quest. The girl is just a small part of the bigger picture. I felt like I was there in this beautiful place with her. Within the sky is a face of the Invisible Being. I didn't see it at first, but once I did see it, I thought it was clever how Shannon made it come to life.

Review excerpts

HORN BOOK (Superior rating): "The text contains the cadences and rhythms of oral language, and the illustrations, dark and vivid, use earth tones and shadows to convey the drama."

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY: "The drama of these haunting illustrations--and of Martin's respectful retelling--produce an affecting work."

SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL: "This is a splendid read-aloud."


Related books:

San Souci, Robert. Cendrillon: A Caribbean Cinderella. ISBN 0689848889

Climo, Shirley. The Persian Cinderella. ISBN 0064438538

*Let students read other variations and compare the stories. What are the similarities and differences? What values of the culture can you gather from the version?

*Find examples of a male "Cinderella" and compare the challenge faced by the protagonist.

*Find allusions in modern movies or television shows to the Cinderella story.

*Look at other picture books and compare how Native Americans are portrayed in the illustrations. Are they accurate depictions? Are the details specific? Are there stereotypes seen in the illustrations?

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