Thursday, February 17, 2011

Little Red Riding Hood

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?"
"Those are to eat you up with, my dear!"
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?

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.


  1. My own experience with fairy tales is like yours--mostly devoid of pictures. I agree with your take on it, though. I had forgotten just how scary some if them are, so it is best to consider the age and maturity of the listener. This particular adaptation of Red Riding Hood is gorgeously illustrated!

    Thanks for linking up to RAT!

  2. The illustrations are adorable... A fascinating thing of reading almost a volume of four I have of the whole Grimm brother fairy tales, it has been that of different endings, scary and not at all sugar coded stories and tales. And thanks for this post specially on Little Red Ridding Hood. My girls cannot get over the fact that in most original renditions they take WINE to the grandmother!

  3. Silvia, I had you in mind while writing this after our conversation about fairy tales. I wondered if you had seen this one before.

  4. I think my favorite is 3 Billy Goats Gruff...mostly because I remember my grandpa and dad telling us the story in their own creative style.

  5. For some reason I always disliked Hansel and Gretel..can't exactly remember why! I've been cautious about reading fairy tales to my kids and do agree with waiting until they are ready. As for right now, I enjoy spending our time reading chapter books out loud that equally spur the imagination as do fairy tales.

  6. Kim and Amy,
    I agree about being cautious. I only recently read Hansel and Gretel to Pippi because before she would not have been able to process the fact that the stepmother wanted the children to be left for dead. When I read it to her a few months ago, we had a very good discussion afterwards. With Tommy, I wouldn't even approach that one. But Riding Hood, although tense at moments, has a happy ending. I wouldn't by any means advocate sitting down with a book of Grimm and reading straight through to a young one without first proofing them and deciding on each story, whether or not they are appropriate for the listener. But I do believe that the first time a child hears a fairy tale, it should be the original or at least an addition faithful to the original. Leave the silly tales and "fractured" tales for later.

  7. I totally agree about reading the original (or one that is faithful to the original) before the silly or changed versions. I have found my own kids aren't that bothered by the scary parts of fairy tales. There are a reason these tales and books have stuck around for centuries, the scary-beautiful stories resonate with kids and their imagination in a way that a Disneyfied version never will.

    I love this version of Red Riding Hood. I've always loved Trina Schart Hyman and she does such a beautiful job here.

  8. This is a great post! Trina Schart Hyman illustrates a beautiful version of St. George and the Dragon too, which is a favorite of ours. I read Grimm's tales to my kids and we like many of them. The kids automatically pick out the right and wrong just like Charlotte Mason said they would. I don't have to lecture about it, they know. It is scary to little ones when it's not water-down like the newer stuff but they work through it. I know some parents are shocked and dismayed at the originals but the thing is the world is harsh. There are real people getting their heads cut off. I don't tell my kids this but they will know soon enough. I do gringe when the story comes out in their play and they say, "I'm going to cut your head off." or "I'll put you in a barrel full of nails." But I also know this is how they process it.

    They also play a "Dead Grama Game." I'm not sure why they call it this since they are usually pretending to do all the fun stuff they do with their Grama. They take turns being a good grama to each other and then grama dies. I'm not quite sure how it all goes but this is what they call it. I haven't corrected them because I know they are processing the possibility. Grampa died in 2007 and their Grama is 75 years old already... So I am careful not to correct their play unless it is hurtful to one of them.

    I don't like Disney for a variety of reasons. My kids watch Disney movies but I much prefer the original stories beautifully illustrated or the non-illustrated story.

    This is a favorite of ours:

    I love Jerry Pickney's illustrations. We also have his illustrated version of Rikki Tikki Tavi. Not watered-down either. :)

  9. Encourage children to explore and express their creativeness to help strengthen a child’s positive self-image. My Dad used to read this to my siblings when I was 7.

    Nursery Reading, MA