• Happy birthday Patricia C. Wrede (The Enchanted Forest Chronicles) and Julia Alvarez (Return to Sender, Before We Were Free).
  • It’s the birth date of Dick King-Smith (1922–2011), Martin’s Mice, The Water Horse, and Babe: The Gallant Pig, who died very recently (January 4) at the age of 88.
  • On this day in 1886, Geronimo, an Apache warrior and chief, surrendered to the U.S. Government after a thirty-year struggle to protect his tribe’s homeland. Read Geronimo by Joseph Bruchac and I am Apache by Tanya Landman.
  • Root Canal Awareness Week begins today. Reread Doctor De Soto by William Steig.

Toward the end of March, World Folk Tales and Fables Week has been set up to encourage children and adults to explore the lessons learned from folk tales and fables. I’d like to finish our celebration with one of the most popular retellings of a folk tale published in the last fifteen years. Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted relies on the content and structure of “Cinderella.” Although this fairy tale can be traced back to the first century B.C., the best-known version in the west was created by French writer Charles Perrault in 1697. For anyone hunting for a folk tale to show children how the same story is told in different cultures, Cinderella remains one of the best—with great cultural adaptations such as Steptoe’s Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, Martin’s The Rough-Face Girl, and Ai-Ling Louie’s Yeh-Shen.

For Ella Enchanted, however, Gail Carson Levine took the story and expanded and changed it, making it into something completely new. As a baby, Ella, daughter of a wealthy merchant father and fairy mother, receives a gift from the fairy Lucinda. She is given obedience—something that proves to be a curse. If someone commands Ella to do something, she cannot refuse, even if it would be in her best interest to do so. While her mother lives, Ella can be protected from the worst problems this gift causes. But after her mother’s death, she suddenly finds herself in finishing school and at the mercy of an odious student who has discovered her secret. In this vaguely medieval land of giants, elves, and ogres (languages that Ella can speak), Ella runs away, searching for Lucinda to get her curse removed.

In the meantime, the prince of the realm, Prince Char, has fallen in love with Ella, and she knows that her condition will only be a curse to him. In the end, only her love for the prince and her own determination make it possible for her to overcome her affliction. Like the original fairy tale, Ella participates in a series of balls with the prince—where she rides in a coach pumpkin and wears glass slippers.

Ella emerges as such a compelling protagonist, and her curse of obedience seems so real and terrible. Fabulous creatures and epic journeys add to the texture of the story. Ella’s triumph over her condition creates a totally satisfying read. A favorite of ten- to fourteen-year-olds, Ella Enchanted proves that the best folk tales can be retold again and again in different forms. In Ella Enchanted, Cinderella has been transformed into an exciting, page-turning, and romantic novel.

Here’s a passage from Ella Enchanted:

Although the prince was only two years older than I, he was much taller, and he stood just like his father, feet apart, hands behind his back, as though the whole country were passing by on review. He looked like his father too, although the sharp angles of King Jerrold’s face were softened in his son. They each had tawny curls and swarthy skin. I had never been near enough to the king to know whether he also had a sprinkling of freckles across his nose, surprising on such a dark face.


Originally posted March 27, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Adventure, Award Winning, Fairy Tale, Magic, Newbery, Quest
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Ella Enchanted


  1. Autumn says:

    This is not just a favorite of 10 to 14 year olds! I first read this when I was seventeen and completely fell in love with Ella and Prince Char. I still reread this novel every couple of years just because it is so much fun! I love retellings of fairy tales and this one is at the top of my list. For anyone who loves Ella, I recommend reading Levine’s novel Fairest that is just as fun. Areida, Ella’s best friend, even makes an appearance.

  2. Melissa says:

    What a great book! Love exploring the Cinderella story in various cultures.

  3. Jory says:

    This is perhaps my most-read book of all time (this feels like an awfully public place to admit that!) I’m a complete sucker for romance, particularly when the girl is self-righteous and stubborn and someone still falls in love with her. It first came out when I was in 6th grade, which I found on the Dorothy Canfield Fisher (DCF) list in VT, where I grew up and our library always promoted. I read it about ten times that first year, and still find myself reading the letters that Ella and Char write back and forth to each other.

    I wish they had kept the original cover — not only do I personally like it better, but it was much easier for me to handsell at the bookstore, these new movie-like covers often turn parents (and kids) off from them. Because I don’t know many people who don’t love this book once they open it!

  4. Chelsey says:

    This is “my book”. My mother and I listened to the audiobook on a car trip when I was nine or so. I’ve listened to it so many times since that I can recite passages. It inspired my thesis on contemporary retellings of the fairy-tale, and if I can ever write anything as gorgeous I’ll have made it!

  5. Anita says:

    Autumn, Jory and Chelsey: Thank you so much for your responses. You really are the first generation of readers to discover this book as children and teens. Critics loved the book when it appeared, but I particularly value your input and memories.

  6. Shoshana says:

    Ella Enchanted is a particularly wonderful retelling in that it could honestly stand alone; if someone read it without knowing the Cinderella story (unlikely as that scenario is), it would still be a clever and satisfying story about a strong protagonist overcoming a creatively devised spell. The fact that it fits the Cinderella structure is almost icing on the cake.

  7. Tess W. says:

    I remember reading this and feeling like I was reading something archetypal, that had never been done before. It was an exciting experience! I, too, read it as a pre-teen ^_^ Thanks, Gail Carson Levine!

  8. Amanda says:

    What a great twist on an old story! I recently watched the Ella Enchanted movie with my younger cousin and we both loved Ella’s strength and courage. How terrible the curse of obedience would be! We went out right away and bought the book to read together.

  9. Erin Mawn says:

    I love fairy tale retellings, and I also love Gail Carson levine’s fairy tale inspired stories. Aside from Ella Enchanted, I love The Two Princesses of Bamarre and the Tinkerbell/Fairies books. Gail was at the 2011 Rhode Island Children’s festival and I was lucky enough to have her sign a couple books for me. :)

  10. Chelsea DeTorres says:

    I love Levine’s writing! This was the book that made me follow all of her books and devour them just as quickly. I still return to this book when I need a pick-me-up. Wonderful read.

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