Saturday, May 10, 2008

Bella at Midnight by Diane Stanley

I recommend this book for: grade 4-7

In this reworked Cinderella tale, infant Bella is sent to live with peasants by her cruel father, a knight who can't deal with the death of his wife. Prince Julian is the insignificant fourth son, who was nursed by Bella's new foster mother and frequently comes to visit "Princess Bella." The wicked stepmother thinks only of herself and her daughters, but she has suffered hard times of her own and does what she must to make a life for them. The fairy godmother is Bella's maternal aunt, who isn't magical in the slightest but does possess some beautiful clothes and some very interesting glass shoes.

There is more at work in this story than the traditional rags to riches love story. Julian's kingdom has been at war with a neighboring realm for 100 years, and stories of the brutality exhibited by the other nation run rampant - and are wonderfully proved to be false when circumstances force Bella to make a journey there. There is also a great deal of faith exhibited by the characters, who frequently speak of God and hope for better times, then act on their faith. And there is magic. I found it refreshing to read a book where religion and magic went hand in hand explicitly. Bella is a wonderful heroine, who exhibits doubts but ultimately does what she knows to be right and saves the day. Older readers will probably realize the big twist at the end, but it shouldn't keep them from enjoying it. Despite the somewhat scary cover, this is a worthwhile read for fans of fairy tales and strong girls.


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