Little Red Riding Hood
Retold and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman
In print and available here
"Please, Grandmother, why do you have such big, sharp teeth?"Words such a part of our literary culture, that everyone knows the reference, or at least everyone of a certain age. But can you remember the delicious fear, the creeping thrill spider walking up your spine upon the first dry rasping of those words?
"Those are to eat you up with, my dear!"
Just a few days ago, I read the story of the red hooded lass to my three year old Tommy for the first time. And by the time the wolf leapt at poor Red, Tommy was hiding behind my back, peeping over my shoulder, eyes wide as milk saucers.
And because nursery tales and their darker kin, fairy tales, become such an indelible part of a child's garden of ideas, I believe that such books should be chosen with special care. How many of you can remember the first time you felt Red's plight? Saw the Horse's bloody head hanging over the gate in Goose Girl? Cringed at the heartless words of Hansel and Gretel's stepmother?
I can remember very few picture books from my childhood, but I do remember finding an illustrated edition of The Goose Girl. Her long loose locks, white blonde like cornsilk, spilling over a white handkerchief, the red bloom of blood spreading outward, with the girl's white horse filling the background. So much white in that picture. The effect was chilling. But most fairy tales are a blank in my mind. I know the stories, the words, but there are very few images.
Fairy tales are some of the most exhausted stories. Exhausted by retellers and illustrators. It's like those old songs that every Tom, Dick, and Harry wants to cover. Flipping through the Fairy Tale collection at book stores, I'm almost nauseated by the cheap, glittery renderings by Publishers, or Editors with no named illustrators.
Then there is the humorous collection, illustrated and retold by the likes of James Marshall. The tales become silly and frivolous, lacking all of the dark bite of the originals. I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with these retellings. But I think they should be reserved for an older set of children - those who have already been introduced to, and grown to love, renderings faithful to the originals.
But so many parents - and educators - choose the sanitized or silly stories, so as not to frighten the child. Why not just wait until the child is old enough to be delighted by that delicious fear?
What about you?
What is your favorite fairy tale? And is there a particular picture book that haunts you from that long ago nursery reading?
Please, do tell.