Picture Book Snob
Ella in Paris
Ella by Alex T. Smith
What's it about?
This clever and original retelling of Cinderella is set in Paris and explores a delightful romance between a ladybird called Ella and a spider called Pierre. Ella's stepsisters are nasty wasps who boss her around and eat jam sandwiches in bed (as only true villains would). Instead of a fairy godmother, Ella has a fabulous friend, a bumblebee called Ms Buzzbottom. Ella doesn't lose a shoe when the clock strikes midnight. She drops a pair of glittery eyeglasses that would make Dame Edna proud.
What can we learn?
Try not to worry when things seem grim - they won't always be that way. As Ms Buzzbottom tells Ella, "One day your life will change forever!" Ms Buzzbottom also demonstrates how good friends are worth their weight in gold and Ella shows readers that everyone is beautiful in their own way.
What makes this story stand out? This is an interesting take on a familiar classic which uses unconventional characters and doesn't conform to traditional concepts of beauty.Rather than being statuesque and glamorous like her stepsisters, Ella has her own style. It's brilliant that Ella's glasses are an integral part of her outfits, including formal ones, and are partially what makes her so striking.
It's fantastic how Ella's appearance doesn't change dramatically for the ball either. The outfit she wears accentuates the way she already looks, rather than transforming her beyond recognition. I love how Pierre falls for Ella before she gets dressed up for the ball and recognises Ella without her sparkly specs: "even in her ordinary glasses, Ella looked more beautiful to him than any bug in Paris."
Why we love it...
Ella is so much fun and such a sweet story, with an incredibly alluring setting. It's great how this celebrates friendship and individuality. Ella doesn't need magic to get her to the ball, just the support of a good pal. Nor does she need the help of any enchantments to make herself more appealing to Pierre. This champions creativity too as instead of a prince, Pierre is a famous artist. The gorgeous illustrations are full of clever, amusing and cute details.
About those illustrations...
I was drawn to this book by its attractive images which are really colourful, interesting and unusual, with stunning palettes. A mixture of painting and collage, with photos of real objects, lots of texture and eye-catching patterns. The Eiffel Tower appears in the background on almost every page, and on Pierre's stationery too. Pierre's studio is lovely, especially the gallery he creates of paintings of Ella.
There are so many breathtaking scenes, but I'm particularly fond of the candle-lit chandelier ball and the views from windows overlooking Paris. I love all the flowers and the purple and pink twilights.
Why you need it...
If your family enjoys Cinderella but you're becoming bored of the traditional fairy tale, this will liven it up. It's important to see different standards of beauty represented and this shows young people they don't have to blend in or fit a certain mould. Ella may also help children who have been prescribed glasses adjust to wearing them.
About the author and illustrator:
Alex T. Smith is a bestselling and award-winning children's author and illustrator who has drawn and written stories since he could hold a pencil. As well as several picture books, he is the creator of the enormously popular Claude series which has been adapted for television. Alex is also the author of perhaps the most festive book on the planet, How Winston Delivered Christmas. This is one of our favourites and one of our most-viewed blog posts of 2020.
Ella by Alex T. Smith was published by Scholastic in 2012.
See more fairy tale retellings reviewed by Picture Book Snob
Read a review of Cinderella by Chloe Perkins and Sandra Equihua (plus learn about the feminist origins of this story)