Childrens Book Review of Jouanah: A Hmong Cinderella by Jewell Reinhart Coburn and Tzexa Cherta Lee

by DerdriuMarriner

Cinderella’s mother dies tragically. Her stepmom initially outsmarts Cinderella’s sacred cow and sad father. But pretty shoes and small feet rescue “Jouanah: A Hmong Cinderella.”

The name Cinderella has household recognition and worldwide fame. Cinderella’s story is guaranteed, crowd-pleasing educational entertainment. Its deep truths, feminine character, and happy endings join those in other favorite fairy tales in the famous folklores of many countries.

All of Cinderella’s storytellers know how to:
• attract first-time listeners and readers to her rags to riches experience;
• build an ever-expanding audience base of permanent fans.
The heroine’s appeal perhaps lies in:
• The diamond-in-the-rough way whereby she transforms from grimiest grunge to highest fashion;
• The lifelong insights into human behavior which characterization, dialogue, and plot merge seamlessly to communicate and hallow.
The girl’s story manifests itself most memorably in the upbeat “Jouanah: A Hmong Cinderella.”

Intricate roof of bamboo crafted by Hmong villagers: Hmong people are skilled jewelers and weavers.

Chiang Mai, northwestern Thailand
Chiang Mai, northwestern Thailand


The name Jouanah can be translated into English as “young orphan.” Hmong counts among the languages of Laos. Its mountain tribe speakers employ the language to preserve a realistic tale -- with some motherly magic -- about a farmer’s daughter and a village elder’s son. In their homeland, the Hmong people typically engage in:

  • Growing crops;
  • Making jewelry and textiles;
  • Raising livestock high up in the mountains.

They therefore furnish Jouanah with an agricultural, rural background as the only child of farmers. Jouanah gets a stepmother and stepsister after her father:

  • Loses a steaming hot rice soup-eating contest;
  • Makes her mother into a field-plowing, grain-carrying cow;
  • Marries Ding’s widowed mother.

She thenceforth has to clean, cook, and cut wood.


Cows (Bos) in Laos: In the Hmong Cinderella story, Jouanah's father turns her mother into a cow, with disastrous results.

Bolaven Plateau, southern Laos
Bolaven Plateau, southern Laos


Disguised as an arboreal spirit, Ding’s mother advises Jouanah’s father to:

  • Burn three joss stocks near the forest edge’s giant dead tree;
  • Destroy silken threads spun by the cow for Jouanah’s dowry.

Jouanah’s bovine mother and then her guilt-ridden father die. Ding’s mother disrespects Jouanah’s grief. She has Jouanah spend the first two days of New Year celebrations separating rice kernels from miniscule pebbles.  Her mother’s sewing basket contents make Jouanah the latest but prettiest third-day celebrant, with:

  • Apron, blouse, skirt;
  • Coin-decorated purses;
  • Dainty shoes;
  • Headdress;
  • Silver necklace.

Handsome, learned, qeng-playing, tall, wealthy Shee-Nang matches a puddle-trapped slipper with Jouanah’s lone shoe. He weds Jouanah in the presence of:

  • Her mother’s cowhide and sewing basket;
  • His parents.


In the Hmong Cinderella story, Jouanah's prince, Shee-Nang, is a queng player:

Hmong musicians perform on qeng, traditional Hmong musical instrument with multiple bamboo pipes.
Guizhou Province, southwestern China.
Guizhou Province, southwestern China.



Jouanah: A Hmong Cinderella can be accessed through Shen’s Books in:

  • English;
  • Hmong, by Tzexa Cherta Lee and Jean Moua;
  • Spanish, by Clarita Kohen;
  • Teacher’s guide format.

Printed in Hong Kong and published in 1996 for five-year-olds and kindergarteners upward, it honors:

  • Dr. Jewell Reinhart Coburn’s and Tzexa Cherta Lee’s adaptation;
  • Ann Sibley O’Brien’s art;
  • Greta D. Sibley’s design;
  • Norman Sibley’s decorative patterns;
  • Mai Kou Xiong’s cultural consultations.

Its Blue clan context interpolates Cinderella-like stories of:

  • Ngao Nao and Shee Na, by Dia Cha and Norma J. Livo;
  • Nkauj Nog (“Young female orphan”);
  • Ntsuag Nos (“Young orphan [female or male]”);
  • The Poor Girl, by Blong Xiong.

It is a family-friendly, “must-have” book for:

  • Cultural enrichment;
  • Educational entertainment.


Jouanah: A Hmong Cinderella by Jewell Reinhart Coburn with Tzexa Cherta Lee ~ illustrated by Ann Sibley O'Brien

Cinderella stories



My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.



Hmong girls at New Year's celebration: Jouanah stands out as the fairest of all during New Year's festivities in the Hmong Cinderella story.

Phonsavan,  Xieng Khouang Province, northeastern Laos
Phonsavan, Xieng Khouang Province, northeastern Laos

Sources Consulted


Campbell, Tara Lynne. 8 August 2003. A Study of Cross-Cultural Communication and Business: Hmong vs. American (Keys to Successfully Conducting Business with the Hmong). Dominican University of California Honors Senior Thesis. Retrieved December 11, 2014.

  • Available at:

Cha, Dia; and Livo, Norma J. 1991. Folk Stories of the Hmong: Peoples of Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited World Folklore Series.  

Chan, Sucheng. 1994. Hmong Means Free: Life in Laos and America. Chicago, IL: Temple University Press.

Coburn, Jewell Reinhart; with Lee, Tzexa Cherta. 1996. Jouanah: A Hmong Cinderella. Arcadia, CA: Shen's Books.

Hmong Studies Internet Resource Center. Retrieved December 11, 2014.

  • Available at:

Hmong Studies Journal. Retrieved December 11, 2014.

  • Available at:

“Keebkwm Hmoob.” Vang Clan Powered by Hmong History. Retrieved December 11, 2014.

  • Available at:

ord, mark. 15 March 2011. “The Blue Hmong of Thailand.” All Points East: Blog > Tour Info > Thailand. Retrieved December 11, 2014.

  • Available at:


the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Cinderella: black t-shirt ~ Available via AllPosters

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Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 08/02/2021, DerdriuMarriner
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