Little Red Riding Hood is one of those classic fairy tales that most children know, or certainly have heard references to the characters. A few weeks ago, we reviewed the latest retelling in the sci-fi contemporary YA novel Scarlet. That got us thinking–and sent us on a search for versions of Little Red Riding Hood for the whole family. (For Little Red Riding Hood Around the Word, click here.)
First, a little history. The first written version is by Charles Perrault (1697) and was clearly a moral tale with no happy ending. Little Red Riding Hood is eaten by the wolf. The End. Perrault is clear about the moral: “From this story one learns that children, especially young lasses, pretty, courteous and well-bred, do very wrong to listen to strangers, And it is not an unheard thing if the Wolf is thereby provided with his dinner.” The Brothers Grimm published their version (“Little Red Cap”) in 1812 with a revised, somewhat happier ending: now, the little girl and her grandmother are saved by a huntsman who was after the wolf’s skin. If this taste of Little Red’s history piques your interest, check out The History of Little Red Riding Hood.
Fascinating stuff! You might want to start by reading the originals in translation:
Little Red Riding Hood by Jerry Pinkney
Sometimes, the best family read-alouds are gorgeously-illustrated picture books whose images enhance the text and draw the the whole family into the story, examining the details in each page. Jerry Pinkney’s retelling of the Grimm Brothers’ version of Little Red Riding Hood is just such a book. What better introduction to Little Red, with the special hood crafted for her lovingly by her mother, and of course, the sly and scary wolf? The patterns and colors in the homey setting and the wintry woods are exquisite watercolors. Another nice detail–the mother and daughter who were models for the illustrations are a biracial family that Pinkney knew. The wolf is drawn as a real creature as well. The story is well-told, too–the danger of the original is there, but no blood and guts. Appropriate even for a pre-school audience.
Little Red Riding Hood retold and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman (easy to read)
Trina Schart Hyman does a wonderful job of retaining the Grimms’ story (without being gruesome), being true to the original moral story, and indulging young readers in lush and detailed illustrations. Kids love the addition of a little black cat that follows Little Red Riding Hood throughout her journey. This book will make readers want to explore Hyman’s other beautiful illustrations–and they will have dozens of books to choose from.
Red Riding Hood retold by James Marshall (early readers)
This contemporary retelling is popular with new readers. The language is accessible, but not stilted, and the story is true to the original, but Marshall keeps it less-than-scary with cartoon-style drawings and some really funny touches (such as after-dinner mints next to the sleeping wolf). The villain himself is quite smooth–with impeccable manners, and some guilt for his actions (“I’m wicked. . .So wicked,” he mutters.) We love that Granny gets mad at the wolf for coming into her house and interrupting her reading!
Little Red Cowboy Hat by Susan Lowell, illustrated by Randy Cecil
We love this cowgirl version of Little Red Riding Hood–one with a feminist twist. Sheriff Little Red wears her badge proudly and is pretty darn tough–she even shoots rattlesnakes with her slingshot. But she is still intimidated by the crafty–and sleazy–wolf who blocks her path. Luckily, Grandma to the rescue (love this!) who has been chopping wood and bursts from her bedroom with an ax. Together, she and Little Red chase the wolf away. There’s still a moral to the story: ” ‘Now, Red, have you learned your lesson?’ asked Grandma. ‘Yep. A girl’s gotta stick up for herself,’ said Little Red.”
Honestly, Red Riding Hood Was Rotten: The Story of Little Red Riding Hood as Written by the Wolf by Trisha Speed Shaskan
It’s always fun to look at these classic tales from another perspective. In this retelling, Little Red and the Grandmother are the perpetrators, and the wolf is a misunderstood vegetarian. True, he does eat them in the end, but only because he was really hungry; he would have far preferred an apple! In fact, that’s what he is imagining they are. . .It’s not my favorite shifting point of view tale, but a nice addition for an exploration of Red Riding Hood. Kids like it, and that’s what’s important. It could be a terrific jumping off point for other children writing their own versions from the Wolf’s perspective.
Little Red Riding Hood: A New-Fangled Prairie Tale by Lisa Campbell Ernst
This Little Red Riding Hood is so-named because she is always wearing her red hoodie and riding around on her bicycle. Ernst retains much of the original tale, but in this mid-Western prairie version, we have spunkier women In addition to Little Red Riding hood, Grandma is a terrific character: a tractor-driving, muffin-baking feisty women who puts the Wolf in his place. Yet the moral remains true to Perrault’s centuries-old tale: Don’t talk to strangers! The book is a funny and very enjoyable read, with the classic lines about eyes and ears–and a happy ending this time.
Scarlet Moon (Once Upon a Time) by Debbie Viquie
Set in England during the Crusades, Scarlet Moon casts Ruth (the Little Red Riding Hood character) in the role of romantic heroine a la Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella (but with more feminist traits). In the first chapter, she is attacked by a fearsome wolf and barely saved by her brother. Flash forward to her teen years: her brother is off fighting and Ruth is learning her father’s trade of blacksmith. Whenever possible, she visits her grandmother, who has been banished to another village for her healing and “witchcraft” skills –and Ruth still bears the scars of her terrible encounter with the green-eyed wolf as a child. Lord William is the love interest in this tale–and he has a “terrible secret.” Here’s a hint–he’s the wolf character and Moon is in the book’s title. Surprisingly intriguing with mysterious twists and turns.
Adult Short Stories available on-line (suitable for YA)
Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Sex, Morality, and the Evolution of a Fairy Tale by Catherine Orenstein
Orenstein opens up the familiar story of Little Red Riding Hood and explores it in depth–historically and in popular culture. What is it about this fairy tale that is so enduring? This is very interesting research, written in an informal and compelling voice. It’s smart and funny, and has some intriguing literary references–like Anne Sexton’s poem “Little Red Riding Hood” and Matthew Bright’s movie Freeway. If you’re really into Little Red Riding Hood, you’ll want to dig into this book!