Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Why Ella Enchanted is actually one the best books any ten-year-old can read

It's summertime, which means that I am reading books for fun again.

And that means that I return to old favorites. I am a re-reader. It's kind of like catching up with dear, old friends.

I've already re-read a few of my favorites.

Yesterday, I had an urge to Ella Enchanted*, by Gail Carson Levine. (Note: If you haven't read the book, then you probably shouldn't read this blog post because spoilers abound. You have been warned.)

Ella Enchanted was my favorite book when I was in second grade. I remember that my mom came back from parent-teacher conferences and handed me a book to read.

"I think you'll really like it," she said.

I was skeptical. Why, I don't really remember. I think I was playing the, "I am a contrary eight-year-old girl today and there's nothing you can do about it" card. I looked at the cover of Ella Enchanted and thought it was going to be really boring:

But I took the book from my mom, opened up to the first chapter, and was immediately captivated by its first two lines:

"That fool of a fairy Lucinda did not intend to lay a curse on me. She meant to bestow a gift."

I was hooked. I fell in love with the story, I fell in love with the characters, and I fell in love with fairy tale retellings.

Rereading it yesterday reminded me of why I loved this book so much as a young girl.

-First of all, it is very well-written. Some people assume that if a book is written for children, it must be poorly written. Not true at all! Some of the very best books I have read are written for children. And Levine is a gifted storyteller and the book is rich and detailed. As an eight-year-old girl, it was one of my first forays into enjoying prose. Sure it's not Dostoevsky, but it was never intended to be a philosophical tract about the meaning of life.

-That being said, Ella Enchanted still deals with important themes, including the power of choice and the tyranny of forced obedience. Ella is cursed to be obedient whenever someone gives her a command . . . which leads her into some terrible situations. But, the power to break the curse is inside of her--just like all of us have the strength within us to change our lives and to take control of our lives--to be agents to act for ourselves instead of being acted upon. The final scene is still one of my favorites in children's literature--where Ella finds enough willpower to say no to the thing that matters most . . . and by saying "no," she gains everything.

-I WANTED THE BOOK THAT MANDY GAVE HER. I still do, actually. A book that grows with you and knows what you need to read/gives you glimpses into other people's lives? Awesome. 

-Also, I just loved the world of Ella Enchanted. I loved that the world was magical, and I loved the clever retelling of Cinderella. It led me to write my own fairy tale retellings.

Now, reading it in my twenties, I've realized some other wonderful things about the book that I didn't realize when I was eight.

-Honestly, I think it was one of my first encounters with a strong female protagonist . . . at least that I can remember. Most of the books I read before then were Encyclopedia Brown books (which I loved). But they weren't books about girls. It was exciting to read a book about a girl--a girl with a brain, a kind heart, and courage.

-And Ella is smart. She is witty and she enjoys learning (for example, she is a gifted linguist and eagerly learns any language she comes into contact with), and she's not afraid to be smart. She is comfortable with who she is while refusing to let her curse define her. Other notice her confidence, including Prince Char (who, by the way, is one of the nicest love interests out of any book I've ever read--he rivals Mr. Knightley from Emma).

-Can we talk about Char for a minute? Reading it yesterday, I noticed just how smitten he is with Ella, practically from the very first time he meets her. And it's really cute. He loves her for her bravery, intelligence, humor, and her clumsiness. Their friendship is the basis for their entire relationship, which I think is lovely. And their letters. Oh, their letters to each other are just delightful. (Except for that terrible part where Char confesses his love to her and she has to pretend to be a total dirtbag who was leading him along the entire time so that she doesn't end up risking his life and the fate of the kingdom because of the curse . . . yeah, that part is terrible. And it just hurts when she has to write him that letter to break his heart . . . yeah, terrible. I was always mad at her for doing that when I was younger. Now I understand more and I applaud Ella for her bravery. But it's still awful.)

Anyway. This post probably seems really random. That's because it is. But Ella Enchanted is one of those books I'm going to read to my children. It's quite enjoyable to read out loud . . . I've done it a couple of times. And it never disappoints.

And really. It is a perfect book for eight-to-ten-year-olds. My mom does know what she's doing once in awhile (read: all of the time).

*Now, if you've seen the movie of Ella Enchanted and if you haven't read the book, you might think that it's weird that I love this story so much. Welllllll, the movie and the book are very different. I remember the first time I saw the movie I was appalled at how they had adapted the book. It felt like a Shrek wannabe movie and the only things that were similar in the book/movie were the names of the characters and that Ella had the curse of obedience. Now I look at the book and movie as two separate stories and I can appreciate both for what they are--but I prefer the book story over the movie story.


  1. Your description of the movie - "Shrek wannabe" - put it into words better than I have been able to.

    I had forgotten a lot of these parts of Ella Enchanted. I need to reread the book!

  2. I will make all of my daughters read ella enchanted.
    and sons, probably.