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The illustrations of Cinderella of the Nile have been inspired by ancient Egyptian art styles!

Cinderella of the Nile cover art

Buy Cinderella of the Nile 

By Alice Ahearn

Pick up Cinderella of the Nile and the first thing that will likely strike you is the stunning illustrations.

Opulent colours, elaborate patterns and staggering detail, all painstakingly hand-drawn by award-winning Iranian illustrator Marjan Vafaeian: it makes a fascinating visual treat of Beverley Naidoo’s retelling of the earliest known version of the Cinderella tale.

But you might also find the artwork a little odd. Rhodopis, the rosy-cheeked heroine, has huge eyes, and is often much bigger than more minor characters in each scene. Animals have startlingly human-like expressions. Flowers, trees and the all-important river form almost geometric patterns across the pages. You might never have seen illustrations like this in a picture book before, but does the style perhaps look vaguely familiar?

A spread from Cinderella of the Nile

There’s a very good reason for this. Marjan Vafaeian took her artistic inspiration from real Ancient Egyptian paintings, and it’s this that gives them their unique and arresting appearance.

Take a look at the painting below, which you can see in the British Museum. Dating from approximately 1350BC, it shows a hunter on a riverbank, accompanied by his wife, daughter and cat. As well as the unmistakable large Egyptian eye, you may notice that the hunter is much bigger than the other two human figures, the water is patterned with zigzags, and the reeds are geometrically regular. You can also just make out that the cat has the same style of eye as the human figures!

Scene from the tomb of Nebamun © Trustees of the British Museum
Cat detail from the tomb painting, © Trustees of the British Museum

As a classics graduate, I’ve always been fascinated by the artwork of ancient civilisations and how their styles are passed on through later cultures. I think it’s wonderful that the illustrations of this ancient fable draw so authentically on the 3000-year-old artistic heritage of Ancient Egypt, mixed in beautifully with Marjan Vafaeian’s own unique touch. When you read this book, you can really feel transported back to the ancient world in which it’s set. And that makes it all the more magical!

Alice Ahearn is a Classics and Ancient History MA Graduate from Durham University

  • Cinderella of the Nile is heading to Edinburgh Book Festival! Buy tickets here
  • Read author Beverley Naidoo’s article explaining Cinderella of the Nile
  • Listen to a podcast featuring author Beverley Naidoo discussing the magic of fairy tales
  • Read the introduction to our One Story Many Voices series

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