Rating: 4 stars
Sarah Mlynowski is on to something with her “Whatever After” series. Her second book in the series, “Whatever After: If the Shoe Fits” is Cinderella. But is it really?
The Disney version and the Grimm version differ mainly in that the Grimm version has an ending that is rather more grim, pardon the pun. In both versions Cinderella and the prince live happily ever after, but in the Grimm original version, the stepsisters cut off bodily parts to enable their foot to fit in the glass slipper. In that version they also have their eyes plucked out by a bird.
Mlynowski’s series does not have the prince fall immediately in love with Cinderella (or Snow White in the first book); instead, through the plots’ twists and turns, the young female protagonists learn that it’s important to be self-sufficient rather than waiting for one’s “prince” to appear.
And isn’t that a great lesson for the young girls in today’s beauty-obsessed culture? Looks are fine, but it’s really what’s upstairs (brains) that counts in the long run.
The basis of the series is that Abby and her brother Jonah have moved into a new house. Their parents are attorneys who have started their own practice and are never home. In the basement of this new house, the two siblings find a magic mirror that sucks them into fairy tales.
In each story, Abby and Jonah mess up the actual story and then have to work to get it right again. Abbie aspires to be a judge when she grows up, and that becomes an interesting point in each plot. In each story, it’s the brains and character that win out in the end, not just the beauty.
And in “Whatever After: If the Shoe Fits,” Abby and Jonah offer to help Cinderella with her chores, thus acquiring some useful skills. While Abby had been banned from cooking and doing laundry because of mistakes she made, she now feels confident enough to do her own laundry. This time, she reads the directions before adding laundry detergent!
But don’t get the idea that the books are great inspirational reads for girls and nothing more. They are funny and well-written, and they feature well-drawn characters. Readers will identify with Abby and her feelings about her brother and her family and their move.
This series is perfect for middle grade readers, probably primarily girls, although some boys who are into Grimm might enjoy it (and there’s always Jonah as one of the main characters).
Another way to get fairytale lovers to read more is the have them compare Mlynowski’s series with Adam Gidwitz’s “The Grimm Conclusion.” The Cinderella story is called “Ashputtle” and it’s hysterically funny. He explains, in detail, that not only was Cinderella covered in ash, she had to clean the chamber pots. So she was also covered in something rather more smelly than ashes. Gidwitz points out that her name should really be Toilet Cleaner rather than Cinderella.
Please note: This review is based on the final paperback provided by the publisher, Scholastic, for review purposes.