Stories don’t have to be “white”


Five CinderellasI watched the Fox News video clip with horror. Megyn Kelly declared “for all the kids watching” that not only was Santa Claus a white man, but Jesus was also a white man. The context for her outrage was a reaction to a Slate piece by   “Santa Claus Should Not Be a White Man Anymore“.

(Set aside for the moment that our image of Santa is largely a result of Coca Cola and that most men who were born in Jerusalem a few thousand years don’t look like the thousands of white Jesus pictures that show up when you do a google image search.)

At the end of the clip on HuffPost, Kelly asks, “How do you just revise it? In the middle of the legacy, in the story, and change Santa from White to Black?”

Ms. Kelly, we simply begin to change the stories.

How to reinterpret a story to be inclusive without ruining a classic story

About a decade ago, I was performing stories for a racially mixed group of young people in Boston. As a white guy, I was viewed with some level of suspicion. Who was I to come into their neighborhoods and share my interpretation of the world? That same summer I was in Newport, working with  youngsters with severe physical disabilities. My goal was to create a story in which any child in these hugely different groups could find himself or herself.

Cinderella Spinderella turned out to be a perfect fit because, as the Fairy Godmother declares, “You can’t dance in glass slippers, but a girl in a wheelchair can really rock those shoes.”

None of the kids in Boston had a problem with a Cinderella in a wheelchair. It became part of the story.

At the same time, I was very careful never to describe what Eleanor (as she is named in my version) looks like. I had a good guess that none of the listeners would see me (the white guy) as the embodiment of Cinderella, but I always hoped that they might see themselves.

Cinderella Spinderella CoverWhen Steve Mardo and I sat down to create the illustrated version we had a challenge. How do we depict Cinderella? As you know, the Disney Corporations version of Cinderella is everywhere. But that wasn’t the point of my story.

Again, the Fairy Godmother speaks, “It doesn’t matter what you look like. What matters is who you are.”

So we took up the challenge, creating an ebook with five different Cinderellas and five different princes to give the readers twenty-five possible choices. Any child and any family could connect.

Interestingly enough, one of the first reviews we received, on masalamommas.com, called us out for not going far enough in creating a more diverse set of images. I wrote back and agreed. If we’d had the resources of Disney or Fox, we might have tried, but to be honest, I wrote and perform a story that’s all about someone owning her identity in a world where color isn’t supposed to matter any more. I know it does, but maybe this book, and maybe a penguin Santa can move it one step closer.

Please download our free Cinderella Spinderella Coloring Book

If you’d like to read the ebook, it’s available on all ebook platforms • Kindle • iPad • Kobo • Nook • Google Books

Audio book on Audible

More info at CinderellaSpinderella.com