I first read a version of the Algonquin Cinderella story in the collected folktale book, "World Tales", compilated by Idries Shah. The version repeated in that book and then retold in "The Rough-Face Girl" is almost perfectly identical. In a way, this proves the entrancing nature of this tale, and its capacity for retellings. With Rafe Martin's book, one of the best Cinderella stories from around the globe (if not THE best) is accompanied by David Shannon's fabulous illustrations. The combination is incredible.
In this tale, once an Algonquin girl lived with her father and cruel older sisters. These girls forced their younger sibling to feed their fires, causing her arms and face to become burnt and scarred. Her hair became charred and lifeless as well. Also in this village was an invisible man who was rumored to be rich and powerful. One day the sisters decide to wed the Invisible Being (I guess they both figured on sharing him). When confronted by his sister, the girls are asked to describe his bow and the runner of his sled. Unable to do so, they are sent away. The next day the rough faced girl goes to do the same and she too meets with the sister of the Invisible Being. You can probably guess the rest.
As Cinderella tales go, this one gives its heroine more of an active role than the European Cinderella ever had. Where Cinderella relies on a magical fairy godmother and a prince to track her down, the rough faced girl fashions her own clothing and sets out to meet the Invisible Being despite the taunts of the villagers that doubt her. True, this is a fairy tale and therefore subject to the idea that for women, fulfillment comes with a good marriage. But honestly, most tales rely on this conceit. This tale has elements of the Cupid/Psyche stories, Beauty and the Beast, and many others, while at the same time remaining a true and accomplished original.
Shannon's accompanying illustrations are very interesting. Most artists that depict Native Americans in storybook form (like, say, "A Boy Called Slow") don't draw characters that display much in the way of emotion. Call it a different kind of racism, if you will. Shannon, however, seems to have taken heart from the fact that this is a fantasy and not a piece of non-fiction. His evil sisters sneer and flounce. As they parade through the village in their new clothes their noses are held quite high. His rough faced girl is never viewed directly, so long as she remains scarred and unhappy. The closest moment we get is when she is crouched beside the fire, the shadows playing on her face and bandaged arms. When at last she bathes in a lake and is revealed to be beautiful the moment, while nice, is accompanied by an odd illustration that conjures up the word "pin-up" more than anything else. In my favorite illustration, we see the Invisible Being towering over his new betrothed, obviously a really good looking dude. Shannon has a way of playing with light and shadow in this book that conceals as much as it reveals. I was particularly taken with the clever picture that displayed the Invisible Being astride the milky way, his waist made up the three stars that represent Orion's Belt.
Truthfully, I am not well acquainted with the Algonquin way of life. I therefore cannot vouch that this book is perfectly faithful to the mode of dress and lives of its people. What I can ascertain is that the book is respectful to its subjects as well as its subject matter. It's a fabulous looking and sounding creation that every child, teen, and adult should be well-acquainted with. Worth a gander.