|A pear tree|
by Maurice Sendak
Note: Contains violence.Once upon a time, a rich man's wife was very sick. When she felt that her end was near, she called her only daughter to her bedside and said, “Dear child, be good, and say your prayers; God will help you, and I shall look down on you from heaven and always be with you." With that, she closed her eyes and died. The child did as her mother asked, and tried very hard to be good. Soon, her father married for the second time. This stepmother had two daughters of her own, whose faces were pretty but whose hearts were ugly and cold. The poor stepchild had a bad time. She was put to work like a servant, getting up before daybreak to bring water, light the fires, and start the cooking and washing. The sisters did everything they could to annoy her. They jeered at her, and poured peas and lentils into the ashes so that she had to sit there picking them out. At night, when she was tired out with work, she had no bed to sleep in but had to lie in the ashes by the hearth. They started calling her Aschenbrödel, or Cinder Maid, because she always looked dusty and dirty. The dreary days passed, and things went on like this for months, and then years. One day Aschenbrödel's father was going to the fair. He asked what each girl wanted him to bring back.
“Beautiful dresses!” said the older.
“Diamonds and pearls!" demanded his younger stepdaughter. But Aschenbrödel had no use for such things, and instead asked him to break off the first tree branch which brushed against his hat on the way home. So her father went to the fair and he brought back two beautiful dresses for the older girl, and pearls and diamonds for the younger. For Aschenbrödel, he brought back a hazel branch. She thanked him and took it to her mother's grave in the garden, where she planted it.Thoughts of her mother filled her mind and she cried so hard that her tears watered the branch, and it grew and became a beautiful tree. Three times a day Aschenbrödel went to the tree and wept. Each time a little white bird came and perched on the tree and when Ashputtle made a wish the little bird threw down what she had wished for. In this way, the girl had plenty of food and warm clothing.One day, the King announced that there would be a royal celebration three days long. All of the unmarried girls of the kingdom were invited, and the prince would choose a bride from among them. Such exciting news! All three girls danced with excitement, but the stepmother said to Aschenbrödel, “ You little sloven! How can you go to a wedding when you are all dusty and dirty?” Aschenbrödel begged so hard to go that her stepmother said, "Here, I’ve dumped a bowlful of lentils in the ashes. If you can pick them out in two hours, you may go.” So Aschenbrödel went out to the garden and called, “O tame little doves, O turtledoves, and all the birds under heaven, come and help me put the good ones in the pot! The bad ones in your crops!"Birds of all kinds fluttered down and in less than an hour they had pecked the good lentils into the pot and eaten the bad ones. When the girl ran to tell her stepmother, the woman broke her promise. She said, “ No Aschenbrödel, you have nothing to wear and you don’t know how to dance. The people would only laugh at you.” But her stepdaughter begged so hard that she said, “If you can pick two bowlfuls of lentils out in an hour you may come.” So Aschenbrödel called again for the birds, and they came and once more put the bad lentils in their crops and the good ones into the pot. And once again, the stepmother broke her promise. When she saw the bowl full of lentils she said, “ We’d only be ashamed of you.” Then she turned her back and hurried away with her own two daughters. After they left, Aschenbrödel went to her mother’s grave. She stood under the hazel tree and called out,"Shake your branches, little tree! Throw gold and silver down to me!"So the bird tossed down a gold and silver dress and slippers embroidered with silk and silver. “ Aschenbrödel changed into the fine dress and slippers, and ran to the palace. Nobody recognized her, not even her stepmother and stepsisters. They were so sure that Aschenbrödel would be picking lentils out of the fireplace all night that they did not think it was possible for her to be present.
All evening the king’s son danced with the lovely stranger, but suddenly, the girl wanted to go home. He offered to escort her because he wanted to find out what her family was like. But she got away from him and hid in the dovecote. The king’s son waited until Aschenbrödel's father arrived. Then he told him that he had seen a strange girl run into the dovecote. So the father got an ax and chopped it to pieces but there was no one inside. When the stepmother and her daughters came home, Aschenbrödel was lying in the ashes in her filthy clothes. She had sneaked out the back end of the dovecote and run to the hazel tree, where she had taken off her gold and silver dress. The bird had taken them away. Then she had put on her old, gray dress again, and crept into the kitchen, where she sat down in front of the fire. The next day all was repeated. The older girls mocked their young stepsister, and their mother called her foul names, Aschenbrödel cried, and was left home alone. Once again she called to the bird and this time it threw down a dress that was even more dazzling that the first. She ran to the palace and danced with the king’s son, and when he asked if he could escort her her home, she ran away. Behind her house there was a garden, where a large tree grew. It had the most wonderful pears growing on it, and Aschenbrödel climbed among the branches as nimbly as a squirre. The king’s son didn’t know what had become of her, so he waited until her father came out and asked him to chop the pear tree down.The man did this, but there was nobody in it: Aschenbrödel had slid down the other side and run home. Again she was curled up on the hearth when her sisters got home, and again made a show of begging to go to the ball the following night. But her stepmother just laughed at her and said, "You? At the palace? Why, the very idea!"So for the third evening, Aschenbrödel called to the bird. This time it threw down a dress that sparkled with diamonds, and was more radiant than either of the others. There was also a pair of slippers of pure gold. When she appeared at the palace this night, the people were too amazed to speak. The king’s son danced with no one but her, and when someone else asked her for a dance, he said: “She is my partner.” This night she left early, and escaped without a trace. Or so she thought. But the king’s son had thought up a trick. He asked his servants to brush the whole stair case with pitch. As the girl ran down it, the sticky pitch pulled her left slipper off. The servants picked it up, and brought delicate, gold shoe to the prince. The very next day he began to search for the maiden whose foot would fit this shoe. When he arrived at Aschenbrödel's house. her oldest sister was the first to try it on. She took it into the kitchen where no one could see her. But her mother was there, and saw that the shoe did not fit. It was too small and the girl couldn’t get her big toe in. So her mother handed her a knife and said: “Cut your toe off. Once you’re queen you won’t need it.” And the girl cut her toe off and forced her foot into the shoe. She gritted her teeth against the pain and went out to the king’s son. He smiled when he saw the young lady wearing the shoe, and helped her onto his horse. But as they rode past the hazel tree the two doves who helped Aschenbrödel were perched on a branch. They cried out, "Roo-coo! Roo-coo! There's blood within the shoe! The foot's too long, the foot's too wide, that is not the proper bride.” When the prince looked down and saw the bloody foot, he brought her home again and asked to try the shoe on the other other girl. This time the younger sister was brought out, and again her mother took her into the kitchen. This sister got her toes into the shoe but her heel was too big. So her mother handed her a knife and said, “ Cut off a bit of your heel. Once you’re queen you won’t need it. ” This is what her daughter did, and then hobbled out to meet the king’s son. At first he was fooled, but then they passed the tree and the doves sang out again. Looking at the girl behind him he saw that blood had stained her white stockings red. He took the girl with the bleeding foot right back home and asked Aschenbrödel's father if he was sure that he didn't have one more daughter? "Well, only a puny little kitchen drudge that my dead wife left me, but she couldn’t possibly be the one you seek. “ Nevertheless, the king’s son insisted that every girl be allowed to try. So Aschenbrödel quickly washed her face and came out and to meet him. He handed her the golden slipper and of course it fitted her foot perfectly. As they passed the hazel tree the doves called out: Roo-coo! Roo-coo! No blood in the shoe! Her foot is neither long nor wide, this one is the proper bride."So Aschenbrödel and the king’s son were married. The day of the wedding, the doves sat upon her shoulders. The stepsisters tried to pretend that they had always been kind to her, and tried to impress the prince. On the way to church the older sister walked on Aschenbrödel's right side, and the younger one on the left. The doves came along and pecked out one of each girl's eyes. On the way back, the stepsisters switched places. The doves pecked out their other eyes, to punish them for being so cruel.
Notes: This is the story published in 1812 by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Here it has been clarified for comfortable reading, yet not edited for violence.
Montessori Connection: Language/Vocabulary
1. Read the story and look for words that are italicized, like this.
2. Write them down in a notebook, and draw a sketch to help you remember what each word means. There are 10 words.
wept: the past tense of the verb to weep, or cry
perch or perched: to sit on the edge of something, as when a bird lands on a tree branch
royal: belonging to or having to do with the King, Queen, Prince or Princess and their family and home
sloven or slovenly: a rude name to call someone, meaning that they are dirty and lazy
lentils: very small, flat legumes or little beans. They can be red, green, yellow or brown.
crops: in this case the word does not mean vegetables which farmers have planted, but the part of a bird's throat where they store food to soften it before swallowing.
embroidery: pictures or patterns sewn onto cloth using brightly colored thread
escort: to go along with someone, to keep them safe or to keep them company
dovecote: a large birdhouse where doves are kept
pitch: tar or melted asphalt