Sunday, May 15, 2016

Fairy Tale Focus: Little Red Riding Hood (Grimm's Versions)

Symbol of childhood innocence.  The girl next door.  A damsel in distress.  These are just a few images that are connected with the traditional versions of “Little Red Riding Hood.”  Charles Perrault recorded the “Le petit chaperon rouge” in 1697 for the lavish and excessive French court of Louis XIV.  In his version, Red willingly gets into bed with the wolf where she is devoured.  No chance for redemption or salvation is offered.  The Brother’s Grimm though added a savior in the form of a father/husband-type figure who saves the young naïve girl from her folly.  Being that the early tales were often written for didactic purposes, Little Red promises in some form to never go off the path again.  In other words, obedience to authorities and an avoidance of bad wolves (men) is essential to survival—especially for a young women. 

Many illustrators have been inspired by this tale.  Grimm’s narrative with its opportunity for escape and renewal is the most popular childhood version. Since most of these books are fairly similar, I highlight what makes each one unique.   Let me know which one is your favorite and why.

Retold and illustrated by Christopher Bing
Bing’s narrative is a good benchmark to compare the others because it stays closest to the Grimm’s version, including having Red carry a bottle of wine and cakes as well as the filling the wolf’s stomach with rocks.  The pen and ink watercolor drawings depict the “palatable threat of the wolf, the darkness of the forest, and the delicate beauty of a handful of wildflowers” (I liked this quote from the book jacket.).  Red says to herself: “Never again will you stray from the path and go into the woods when your mother has forbidden it.”  The book includes a pamphlet replica of Charles Perrault’s version and a translation with black and white pictures of Grimm’s tale from “Rotkappchen” as it appeared in 1857.  These added elements give this picture book a historical and authentic feel.  

Little Red Riding Hood (Caldecott Honor)
Retold and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman
The narrative begins by giving Red a name (Elisabeth) and some background of how she became “Little Red Riding Hood.”  Red takes bread, sweet butter, and bottle of wine to her grandmother.  There is a strong sense of the wolf temping her by drawing attention to the “gay and happy” sounds of the forest.  He encourages her to enjoy the bird’s song and the sunshine.  The wolf scolds her for being too proper and well behaved.  Red sees the “sunlight dancing through the trees” and “wild flowers and butterflies scattered throughout the ferns and decides to get some flowers to cheer her grandmother up.” Hyman just has the wolf killed, no fanfare on cutting open or replacing with rocks.  Little Red states, “I will never wander off the forest path again, as long as I live.  I should have kept my promise to my mother.”  There is an emphasis on etiquette too.  Red is comforted that she had minded her manners and said, “Good Morning,” Please,” and “Thank You.”  Hyman’s intricate illustrations make it well-rounded enjoyable read. 

Retold and illustrated by Gennady Spirin
Spirin gives come slight background on the hood’s origin.  Little Red takes a cake to her grandmother.  The wolf merely suggests she pick flowers.  This version includes two huntsman (from a Russian story the author heard as a child).  Another unique feature is the wolf jumps out of bed.  He is chased by the huntsmen who eventually catch him and cuts open his stomach.  (Spirin dropped the rocks in stomach part completely.) Out jumps Red and Grandma who run back in the house.  Grandma declares she feels so much better now.  As they eat the cake together, Red sits on her grandmother’s lap and says, “I will never leave the path again when my mother tells me not to.”  Then, she kisses and hugs her grandmother.  Spirin’s exquisite illustrations were inspired by the golden age of Dutch painting in the 17th century and the Renaissance. 

Retold and illustrated by William Wegman
Red’s mother makes blueberry muffins for her grandmother.  There is a strong emphasis on no dawdling.  Little Red is told to go straight there and return before dark.  She makes the choice to pick flowers even before meeting the wolf.  There are many paths to her grandmothers house, so she lets “whimsy decide which path to take.” She stops to greet the woodsman on her way as well as observes and greets the animals.  Finally, she speaks to the wolf who side tracks her by telling her there is a place to pick flowers that are “special.”  Another interesting addition is that the wolf applies rogue and rehearses his lines in front of the mirror before the girl arrives.  The woodsman becomes concerned when Red does not stop by on her way home and decides to check on her.  The sudden shock of seeing the woodsman makes the wolf dizzy and nauseated, causing him to throw up the grandma and Little Red. The wolf slips out in the excitement of becoming free again.  The trio celebrates together, but they are too upset to eat.  There is an epilogue.  When Red travels to see her grandmother the following week, she goes straight there without dawdling (learning her lesson from the previous week).  However, Grandmother is visited by the wolf again.  They do not let him in this time.  He gives up and goes somewhere else. Not only does this version have several unique features, the illustrations are one-of-a-kind.  They are photographs of dogs dressed as the characters! 

Retold and illustrated by Debbie Lavreys
Little Red carries a bottle of cider and piece of pie.  This straight forward version uses a big font and easy words ideal for young readers.  In the end, Red “promises herself that she would never wander off the road again.”  The contemporary, vibrant pictures stray from the more traditional ones in most the others highlighted in this post. 

Retold and illustrated by James Marshall
Like Lavreys’ version, Marshall has also simplified the story using minimal words.  His personal touch is evident in phrases such as “not feeling up to snuff” and “frightful racket.”  Red takes grandmother her favorite custard.  Even though she is specifically told not to speak to strangers, she does so because the wolf has such charming manners.  The wolf offers to escort her because “you never know what might be lurking about.” The woodsman jumps in the window, kills the wolf, and cuts him open. Red promises to never ever speak to another stranger, charming manners or not.  On the next page, a crocodile attempts to talk to her.  She walks away, revealing that she learned her lesson. 

Little Red Riding Hood

Retold and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
Pinkney makes several revisions to this classic.  Chicken soup and raison muffins are sent to grandma’s house.  The mother made the hood (usually it is the grandmother).  The setting is during the winter.  Instead of flowers, she collects kindling for fire.  I like his uses of onomatopoeia (“tap tap,” “chop chop” and “crunch crunch”) because they are easy way to encourage student involvement in the retelling. The woodcutter sees two sets of tracks, including large paw prints, which prompts him to check on grandmother.  The wolf is killed with an ax.  Then, the woodcutter opens the stomach with sewing shears. Grandmother says, “Little miss, you be certain to go straight home” and she did. The watercolor and gouache illustrations depict an African American family, making it the only multicultural picture book version of Grimm's tale that I found.

Activities and Resources for Lesson Plans

  • Use a Venn Diagram to compare/contrast 2 versions. Consider why author's tend to change key areas like what is taken to grandma and how the wolf dies.
  • Look closely at the endings of each story. What "lessons" are emphasized and to what degree does Red appear to internalize them?
  • Examine how the story has changed over time. Do those changes diminish the significance and symbolism (as some experts claim) or do they make the story more relevant to contemporary audiences?
  • Visit SurLaLune for more about Little Red Riding Hood and other beloved tales.
  • Pinterest Collection of "Little Red Riding Hood" activities (Feel free to give additional suggestions for this board)
  • Pinterest Ideas for Fairy Tales


  1. It's really fascinating to see all the different versions of Red Riding Hood. I have to confess that I prefer the versions where the wolf's stomach is NOT cut open and filled with rocks! Yuck!

  2. I agree, Barbara. I like the versions where she outwits the wolf.


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