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Sharing several versions of the classic fairy tale encourages critical thinking and fosters art appreciation.
These days every media awards event has a preliminary show that is often of more interest than the awards themselves—the red carpet. Glamorous stars parade in designer gowns, and the emcee asks them “who” they are wearing, meaning which fashion designer?
Let’s imagine that several name designers—Dior, St. Laurent, Givenchy, Chanel, Karan, and so on—are asked to use the same fabric to create a dress for the same model. There’s no doubt that each dress would have its own distinctive look and style. Well, if fashion designers can do it, so can picture-book illustrators! In retelling the classic tale Little Red Riding Hood, illustrators have used the same story but applied their own style, providing young readers and viewers with a tableau of interpretations and depictions. From comic to folk art to sophisticated, Little Red Riding Hood struts her cape in style.
The setting of the story has not been limited to traditional European locales. Ed Young chose to locate his version in his homeland of China, and his retelling, Lon Po Po, won a Caldecott Honor in 1990. His dramatic style combines techniques used in ancient Chinese panel art with surprising perspectives and an evocative palette of watercolors and pastels.
Little Red, by Lynn Roberts, is set in late-eighteenth-century America, and in another variation on the theme, the title character is a boy. When the wolf steals Little Red’s jacket and swallows Grandma, Little Red tricks him into drinking a jug of ginger ale (“a popular colonial drink,” according to the author’s note), and Grandma pops out with a burp.
In Petite Rouge, Mike Artell’s humorous Cajun takeoff set in the heart of the Louisiana swampland, the wolf is an alligator, and Petite Rouge is a sturdy young duck who doesn’t need a woodcutter to rescue her. A brief note on Cajun history and a glossary are included.
Niki Daly set his version in Ghana, as his retelling’s subtitle indicates: Pretty Salma: A Little Red Riding Hood Story from Africa. The illustrations are fashioned with watercolor and digital art and incorporate African motifs in depicting what happens when Salma fails to heed Granny’s warning about talking to strangers.
Who but James Marshall could transform this sometimes-scary story into a humorous spoof with his signature simple lines in Red Riding Hood? His plot twist has Granny being furious at having her reading interrupted, and his exuberant full-page pictures draw out the characters’ foibles.
Grandma drives a tractor? Lisa Campbell Ernst sets her version of the tale on the prairie, where feisty Little Red Riding Hood rides a bike and the wolf has a hankering for Grandma’s award-winning Wheat Berry Muffins (recipe included). The cartoonish scenes in Little Red Riding Hood: A Newfangled Prairie Tale are bound to bring giggles.
Melissa Sweet puts a humorous and artistic spin on the basic story line, playing with different colors of red in the plot, as the title, Carmine: A Little More Red, indicates. She utilizes mixed-media collage, with handmade papers and found objects, and integrates a dog into the tale. As Carmine dillydallies on her way to Granny’s and stops to paint a picture, the dog leads her to the wolf. A recipe for Granny’s Alphabet Soup is included.
A recent addition to the Red Riding Hood canon is Gail Carson Levine’s Betsy Red Hoodie, starring the little shepherd from Betsy Who Cried Wolf! (2002). When Betsy and her unlikely coshepherd—a wolf named Zimmo—go to Grandma’s house, they bring along their sheep, who offer comic speech-balloon asides in Scott Nash’s color-washed ink drawings.
Diverse Techniques and Styles
The assortment of illustration techniques in Little Red Riding Hood retellings is as varied as the artists’ styles. From Andrea Wisnewski’s intricate paper-cut designs to William Wegman’s photographs of dogs dressed as characters, the diverse techniques prove there is no one way to illustrate a classic fairy tale. Wisnewski sets her story in rural New England and furnishes it with nineteenth-century interiors, architecture, and costumes from Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. The result is a striking effect that resembles woodcuts. Wegman’s color photographs of Weimaraner dogs are droll images in realistic settings.
Two striking interpretations of the story published last year are also excellent examples of contrasting styles. Gennady Spirin adapted the original Brothers Grimm tale and applied his signature elegantly styled and delicately lined artwork, inspired by Renaissance and seventeenth-century Dutch painting. The exquisite paintings are finely detailed—the wolf has never been so lavishly attired.
In The Story of Little Red Riding Hood, Christopher Bing chose to include both the Grimm story as well as the bleaker version by Charles Perrault, which appears in a smaller booklet glued to the last page of the book. Aiming to design an old-fashioned children’s book, with discolored edges and images of real flowers in the border, Bing creates texture by applying thin lines to the fabrics, figures, and flora throughout the scenes. Little Red Riding Hood is modeled after one of his children, a golden-haired, brown-eyed girl. His depiction of the wolf’s attack is quite ferocious and chaotic. The overall effect is visual magic.
Jerry Pinkney enlivens his version of the story with watercolor, colored pencil, gouache, and ink, all of which generate an old-fashioned, atmospheric feeling. He chooses to depict the title character as dark haired and dark skinned, reflecting his own African American heritage.
Trina Schart Hyman sets her rendition in New England, as Wisnewski does, and uses her neighbors as models. Her vibrantly colored illustrations have a romantic, homespun feel, with her trademark borders framing scenes that are filled with household details—a patchwork quilt, a framed alphabet sampler, a ladder-back chair, and a woodstove.
What could be controversial in a story about an innocent little girl taking goodies to her ailing grandmother? Surprisingly, it wasn’t the wolf eating Grandma or the huntsman killing the wolf with his ax, but the bottle of wine in Hyman’s pictures that Little Red Riding Hood carries in her basket and Grandma drinks after her rescue. Published in 1983, Hyman’s Little Red Riding Hood met with some tsk-tsking, but now, more than 25 years later, the bottle of wine that appears tucked in the basket in Christopher Bing’s version hasn’t raised an eyebrow.
Perhaps the most controversial version of Little Red Riding Hood is by 1965 Caldecott Medalist Beni Montresor. He brought his theatrical background to the tale with a provocative interpretation that was a homage to the artist Gustave Doré’s wood engravings of the tale. Though the book was named a New York Times Best Illustrated Book, the bold and startling images, especially the spread of the wolf devouring Little Red Riding Hood, were viewed by some as having disturbing religious overtones. A wry touch is the wolf, who is dressed in a white suit in tribute to the author Tom Wolfe.
The tale of Little Red Riding Hood has enjoyed universal popularity since the eighteenth century. W. W. Denslow, a famous and successful illustrator of children’s stories (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, 1900), drew one of the earliest versions, which was published in 1903. Since then, there has been a bevy of new versions, from lift-the-flap titles to miniature-sized retellings to antique reproductions. No doubt the magic and guile of this tale will continue to fascinate illustrators and offer an opportunity to reinvent, romanticize, or dramatize it.
There are many more elements that can be compared, but it’s time to vote. As Little Red Riding Hood parades on the red carpet in all her retellings, which version is the best dressed? Which one is the most uniquely designed? Which artwork best suits the story? Remember, Red rules!
Betsy Red Hoodie. By Gail Carson Levine. Illus. by Scott Nash. 2010. 40p. Harper, $16.99 (9780061468704). K–Gr. 3.
Carmine: A Little More Red. By Melissa Sweet. Illus. by the author. 2005. 40p. Houghton, $16 (9780618387946); paper, $6.95 (9780618997176). Also available in an e-book edition. PreS–Gr. 2.
Little Red: A Fizzingly Good Yarn. By Lynn Roberts. Illus. by David Roberts. 2005. 32p. Abrams, $16.95 (9780810957831). Gr. 2–4.
Little Red Riding Hood. By Paul Galdone. Illus. by the author. 1974. 32p. McGraw-Hill, o.p. K–Gr. 2.
Little Red Riding Hood.
By the Brothers Grimm. Retold and illus. by Trina Schart Hyman. 1983. 32p. Holiday, $17.95 (9780823404704). 398.2. PreS–Gr. 2.
Little Red Riding Hood. By Charles Perrault. Illus. by Beni Montresor. 1991. 32p. Doubleday, o.p. 398.2. Gr. 4–up.
Little Red Riding Hood. By Jerry Pinkney. Illus. by the author. 2007. 32p. Little, Brown, $16.99 (9780316013550). 398.2. PreS–Gr. 2.
Little Red Riding Hood. By the Brothers Grimm. Retold and illus. by Gennady Spirin. 2010. 32p. Marshall Cavendish, $17.99 (9780761457046). 398.20943. K–Gr. 2.
Little Red Riding Hood. By Bernadette Watts. 1968; reissued 2009. 32p. North-South, $16.95 (9780735822566). 398.2. PreS–Gr. 2.
Little Red Riding Hood. By William Wegman. Illus. by the author. 1993. 40p. Hyperion, o.p. Gr. 2–4.
Little Red Riding Hood. By Andrea Wisnewski. Illus. by the author. 2006. 32p. Godine, $18.95 (9781567923032). K–Gr. 2.
Little Red Riding Hood: A Newfangled Prairie Tale. By Lisa Campbell Ernst. Illus. by the author. 1995. 32p. Aladdin, paper, $7.99 (9780689821912). K–Gr. 3.
Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China. By Ed Young. Illus. by the author. 1989. 32p. Philomel, $16.99 (9780399216190); paper, $6.99 (9780698113824). 398.2. Gr. 1–4.
Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood. By Mike Artell. Illus. by Jim Harris. 2001. 32p. Dial, $16.99 (9780803725140); Puffin, paper, $6.99 (9780142500705). 398.2. PreS–Gr. 1.
Pretty Salma: A Little Red Riding Hood Story from Africa. By Niki Daly. Illus. by the author. 2007. 32p. Clarion, $16 (9780618723454). 398.2. PreS–Gr. 2.
Red Riding Hood. By James Marshall. Illus. by the author. 1987. 32p. Dial, $18.99 (9780803703445); Puffin, paper, $6.99 (9780140546934). K–Gr. 2.
The Story of Little Red Riding Hood. By the Brothers Grimm. Retold and illus. by Christopher Bing. 2010. 40p. Handprint, $18.99 (9780811869867). 398.20943. Gr. 1–4.
The True Story of Little Red Riding Hood. By Agnese Baruzzi. Illus. by Sandro Natalini. 2007. 18p. Candlewick/Templar, $14.99 (9780763644277). >Gr. 1–4.
Julie Cummins is an author, critic, and reviewer of children’s books, and former coordinator of children’s services at the New York Public Library. Her latest book is Sam Patch: Daredevil Jumper (2009).
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