When I was a kid I loved the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Cinderella. We all wanted to be her, the beautiful damsel in distress who sang, “I’m as mild and as meek as a mouse, When I hear a command, I obey; But I know of a spot in my house Where no one can stand in my way. . .” and that spot she refers to is a chair in a corner where she goes to pretend that she’s someone else. Families gathered around and cheered when the prince finally comes to save our heroine from further abuse.
But, wait. . . why go in a corner and just pretend your rotten life is good? Couldn’t she save herself? And a bigger question is, why would we want to be like someone who needs to be saved?
Diana is the founder, director, and facilitator of Dramatic Adventures a program that teaches emotional, social, and problem solving skills to children. In Diana’s own words, “Dramatic Adventures’ techniques transform every day challenges from: Blame to Leadership, Avoidance to Action, Whining to Winning!” Imagine if this program had been around when Cinderella was a kid. Maybe that’s who CinderSilly really is, a Cinderella who spent time at Dramatic Adventures and came out wiser, stronger, and more socially-skilled.
In this version of the fairy-tale, Diana says, “She overcomes the bullying of her stepmother, teasing from stepsisters, the difficult task of chores, and doesn’t need to marry a prince or become a princess to live HAPPIER EVER AFTER. CinderSilly doesn’t need magic to gain control of her circumstances and her life. She is a pro-active girl with a positive attitude, who doesn’t accept the traditional victim role.” CinderSilly shows us that “life is what you make it.”
I’d like to welcome Diana to our Mixed-Up Files.
You are clearly a person who believes that life is what you make it and you’ve been involved in so many interesting projects. What is your education and background?
I am a theatre professional and playwright. I attended the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, and worked in NYC as an actor and writer. For many years, I directed children in theatre programs, and placed a strong emphasis on developing life skills through theatre. Over the years, it seemed students needed life skills more and more until that finally became the primary focus and theatre became secondary. I’m very glad it did.
I also partnered with Dr. Betty Brittain, a life-long educator who specialized in problem solving skills to ensure we had a solid foundation.
What made you decide to write CinderSilly?
In 2004, I was developing an interactive storytelling program to teach emotional intelligence to children, entitled Fairytales and Feelings. I was studying stories that would provide a solid foundation for underlying lessons. Of course, little girls love princesses, and my daughter was no exception. I would have preferred she pretend to be a queen. It made me crazy to see she and her friends play pretty and passive. I was amazed that I had never brought home a princess movie, but she still know them all. You know the saying, ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” So, I wrote CinderSilly as a counter role model. This is a girl who is pro-active, overcomes her circumstances and creates her own ‘happier ever after’. She doesn’t even get married.
I read over 400 versions of Cinderella. Stories that included witches, and alligators, and all sorts of things. Though the settings and characters were drawn differently, they still had a lot in common – they all portrayed a young woman playing the victim. Magic saves her, and then she marries a prince. CinderSilly is the anti-Cinderella! She is a young girl, who proves that you can make your own magic.
How can teachers, librarians, and drama teachers use this book in their classrooms?
I ran CinderSilly as part of the Fairytales and Feelings series for 7 years before completing the book. Over that time, we carefully integrated tools for teaching social and emotional intelligence. In fact, we packed so many great things into the book, I wanted to make sure they were a solid resource to anyone who wanted to draw upon them. So, we put together a supplemental book entitled Empowered Princess, filled with crafts,activities, and discussion topics which is available on CinderSilly’s website. CinderSilly is also available through Follett Library Resources, Baker & Taylor, and the Barnes & Noble Bookstore catalog.
The artwork for the book is gorgeous! Tell me how you found your artist.
I am the former theatre director of the Denver Children’s museum. While I was there, I had the honor of working with Jill Haller, the exhibits director. She and her husband Thom were two of the most creative individuals I had ever met in my entire life. Jill created the Center for the Young Child, (among other amazing exhibits) while I was there and I saw first hand how captivating her work was for children. I knew I wanted to create this book to work with the two of them. They produced such a beautiful product, the book is displayed in the Denver Art museum gift shop. From the time we began the art work, it took four years to complete.
Will there be more books in the Fairytales and Feelings series?
Yes, we are working on the next project. Sign up at cindersilly.com, and you will be the first to know.
Thank you so much for joining us here. I’m looking forward to more empowering fairy tales from you!
Jennifer Duddy Gill is the author of The Secret of Ferrell Savage. (Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, February 2014)