Alex T. Smith
(Scholastic Children’s Books)

Ella, the bespectacled ladybird, is forever cleaning up after her two nasty and ungrateful wasp stepsisters Belladonna and Ivy. One day, a famous artist named Pierre in need of inspiration decides to throw a ball in Paris on Valentine’s Day. When the invitation to the Grand Bug Ball lands on the door mat for the wasp sisters,  they are sure to win the artist over and decide to take Ella with them … to carry the bags. When they arrive in the city of love, Ella decides to go on a little expedition to discover the city. When she bumps into Pierre, this impromptu encounter sets their hearts racing: has Pierre finally found his muse? Has Ella finally found love? Soon they must part, but a little bit of magic and sparkle is all it will take to get those love bugs to meet again and start their own happily ever after.

This gorgeous retelling of Cinderella mixes many aspects of the traditional tale with some updated details, which brings a more modern feel to the story. Two welcome changes include the fact that Ella’s love interest actually works for a living, rather than being a rather idle and over-privileged prince, and also that Ella is cute in her own way, without being the unrealistically beautiful Cinderella that it often portrayed. She wears glasses too, hurrah! But there is still very much love at the core of the story and a happily ever after ending.
Using Paris helps set the romantic tone of this tale and this is greatly supported by the palette of colours used. The artwork is beautifully vibrant with lots of pinks, purples and reds but lots of yellow too. It is “girly” without being overly so (quite a lot of black is used too, which helps), allowing the book not to dismissed by boys (even a certain 9 year-old got quite involved in the story and loved the fact that the glass slippers are replaced by glasses). I love the recurrence of the Eiffel Tower and its shape, even if the way the curtains drape around the window. Alex T. Smith has managed to make Paris look truly magical and it very much feels like the city is an integral part of the tale in the same way as Ella and Pierre are. His quirky sense of humour and attention to detail really make this story a joy to read. Yes, this is a well known tale and many young children will soon spot the similarities with Cinderella but I think Alex has managed to make it very much his own.

Ella is a gorgeous picture book, showcasing again how talented Alex T. Smith is not only as an artist but also as a storyteller. It is the perfect book to share on Valentine’s Day and any day of the year when a bit of love and a whole lot of happiness is needed.

All illustrations  © Alex T. Smith

Many thanks to Scholastic for providing a review copy of “Ella”.