In almost every culture, parents tell children a story that resembles the European Cinderella. Scholars have collected more than 500 versions of the story. In the past couple of decades a lot of these multicultural variations on Cinderella have been turned into children's picture books. The familiar story gives kids a great introduction to people of the world. Several of these books are very good, but two are exceptional. One is John Steptoe's "Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters," an African version of the story. The other is this one.
"Yeh-Shen," a Chinese version of the tale almost a thousand years older than the earliest known European version, contains many familiar details - a poor over-worked girl, a wicked stepmother and stepsister, a magical helper, a king in search of a wife, and a lost shoe. But while Cinderella is simply handed gifts from her fairy godmother, Yeh-Shen earns her wishes through kindness to a magic fish. This one change makes a big difference in the ethical tone of the book. It also makes the reader feel much more sympathetic toward Yeh-Shen, who seems to deserve every bit of good fortune she gets.
The illustrations greatly add to the book's charm. Ed Young's style is striking and unique. There's a misty, ethereal quality to his art that makes everything look as if it were taking place in a dream - which is just perfect for the book.