From the very first lines, we know that this story took place “thousands of years ago,” and this is driven home when we learn that the people live in caves. The text and illustrations show a primitive society, with water drawn from “a mountain pool,” and Yeh Hsien being sent off “into the hills to gather herbs.” Transportation is by horse and wagon, even if the horses are decked out in finery. At the Cave Festival, Yeh Hsien is blinded by “the lights of a hundred lanterns.” All of these add up to a long ago time and place.
Meilo So’s illustrations add depth to the story, as we view the cave in which the family lives and the fine clothes of the stepmother and stepsister vs. the heroine’s patched and ragged jacket. So’s pictures of the magic Wishbones occur over and over, and in brilliant red and blue colors that jump off the page at us. On the very last page, not only does the text tell us that the Wishbones have lost their magic, but they have also lost their bright colors - the skeleton is only bleached white now.
This version of the age-old dispute between daughters and stepmothers has its normal assortment of archetypes. We have the innocent child, symbol of all that is good. We have the bully, symbol of all that holds us back from what we want or desire. Finally, we have the magical being, the Angel archetype, who answers our prayers or wishes (Meta Religion).
The story of Cinderella/Yeh Hsien has a global theme. If we live a good life, we will earn our reward despite what obstacles or people try to stop us. This universal theme is why so many diverse cultures have their own versions of a Cinderella story.
Dr. Judy Rowen (Children's Literature)
Jan Lieberman (Children's Literature)
Horn Book (The Horn Book Guide, 1993)With the help of magic fishbones, Yeh Hsien, the Chinese Cinderella, dresses herself in finery to attend the Cave Festival. The inadvertent loss of her slipper results in her marrying the king. Rich in color, humor, and authentic details, So's brilliant illustrations give the old tale a refreshing and effective interpretation.