That depends. Does she live in a small village in France, near the walled city of Great Zimbabwe, or in the mountains of the Czech Republic? Is it her fairy godmother or Godfather Snake she asks for help? Cinderella might see the pumpkin patch from which her transformed carriage will come, or she might see a volcano with smoke rising from the top. The wicked stepmother might keep Cinderella from visiting that castle down the hill, but then again, she might send her stepdaughter out to find violets in the snow.
Young children rarely have any perception that their own culture is not universal. They assume that everyone dresses the same, eats the same foods, and celebrates the same holidays. Our first graders are working on a project–Cinderella’s Window–that will introduce the kids to the fascinating differences between countries, while understanding that some things–like storytelling–unite people the world over. There are lots of methods–history, world languages, maps, cooking–teachers can use to introduce children to the rich variety of ways people live, but folktales make a nice lens through which kids can begin to examine culture since so many traditional tales have been published in picture book form.
We decided to use Cinderella stories as the focal point for a project that will meet learning standards in Social Studies, English Language Arts, Information Literacy, and Technology. Our stories were drawn from around the world, with versions from Nigeria, Zimbabwe, the Czech Republic, the Philippines, India, and France. We gathered nonfiction books on each country, and the page I made for our library wiki links to pictures, text, and audiovisual links for our students’ research. You can see our book list, graphic organizer, and unit outline here.
The children began by hearing Cinderella versions from other cultures, and comparing them to the version most familiar to them (think stepmother, fairy godmother, and glass slipper.) They are now using pictures, books, and websites to find out more about the countries where the stories were set. In another week, they’ll begin writing a paragraph that tells several facts about the country they’ve researched, and they’ll draw pictures of what a Cinderella character would see through the window. The project will end with a field trip to the arts center at a local college, to see a play…Cinderella!