Like many classic nursery rhymes, fairy tales have an extraordinary ability to transcend generations, cultures and languages. Their plots are filled with mild (and often more than mild) peril. Perhaps one reason for their enduring popularity is that they give children, and the adults they read with, the opportunity to explore challenging themes from the comfort of a cosy bed or another safe space. Many of these fairly tales have a clear resolution, vindicate goodies over wronguns, and teach some helpful values along the way.
Little Red Riding Hood has survived in literature for at least a thousand years. Its origins can be traced back to several European folk tales from the 10th century, including an Italian version called 'La finta nonna' (The False Grandmother). It has inspired an array of interpretations for page and screen, including many in picturebook form. Below are three of our favourites.
Little Red Riding Hood by Anna Milbourne (words), Julia Sarda Portabella (illustrations) and Nicola Butler (design), published by Usborne
This is a hugely innovative delivery of a traditional retelling, brought to life through an extraordinary feat of paper engineering. From the front cover onwards, we can see through the story, with each cardboard page containing intricate cut-throughs to those that follow. Through the front cover, we can see a dark, thick forest as the journey begins. The books pace-setting words are matched perfectly with charming illustrations. With every turn, more of Little Red's near-three-dimensional world is revealed. Her red cape shines through the pages like a beacon, through the dark wood filled with rabbits, deer and squirrels. The big bad wolf is suitably creepy and sinister.
The book's unique selling points are accentuated by flaps and hidden turns, which add to the fun. Over the course of the book the reader can move through the forest, into grandma's house, and out again - in a way that is as close to animation as you can get in a picturebook. Illustrator Julia Sarda Portabella's beautiful pictures convey both a retro and Germanic feel, perhaps as a nod to the most famous version of this story - that of the Brothers Grimm in 1812.
Little Red by Bethan Woollvin, published by Two Hoots
The cover of this book sets a tone of subversion from the off. This isn't going to be a straightforward retelling. Black lines against a stark white backdrop, depicting a girl's fringe and side-eyes stare, are surrounded by a blood-red hood. The inside cover shows the girl, hands on hips, amidst a bleak forest - she is a Scandi-noir Little Red who is not in a mood to be messed with.
Asked to take some cake to her poorly grandma, she sets off, not looking too impressed by the prospect. The wolf, whose teeth literally fill the page, approaches her, and growls. We are told this "might have scared some little girls. But not this little girl". The wolf makes a plan, but so does Little Red.
We won't reveal the truly brilliant and shocking ending in this post. Let's just say that if I'd been drinking tea at the time of reading this book it might have been splurted across the room. It's no wonder this picturebook (Bethan Woollvin's debut) was chosen as one of The New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Books of 2016.
Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion by Alex T Smith, published by Scholastic
Alex T Smith applies his brilliantly irreverent style to a transposition of Little Red to the Savannah - with an amusing narrative amid fabulous splashes of sumptuous colour. Her ruby-red dress is juxtaposed with the rich pinks and oranges of the African plains and skies, and the hungry wolf's (or in this case, lion's) bronze mane.
When Auntie Rosie calls for help - she is covered in spots - Little Red sets off to see her - with a basketful of medicine and fresh doughnuts. We follow her all the way, around warthogs and atop elephants. When she stops for a rest under a shady tree, the lion makes his move and forms his "very clever plan" - humorously depicted in the form of what appears to be an all-too-hastily-doodled step-by-step guide.
Rosie arrives at her Auntie's house and on entering her bedroom immediately sees her - locked in the cupboard - with the lion tucked up in bed. She decides to teach him a lesson (several in fact) including hair braiding, dental hygiene and fashion. The lion finally has enough of playing the role of Auntie, and can stay in character no longer. Happily, a deal is struck, doughnuts are consumed, and the lion's interest in eating aunties and girls vanishes, as do Auntie Rosie's spots.
If you like these, and are looking for more Little Reds, try:
Yummy by Lucy Cousins - a compendium of classic folk and fairy tales depicted through the author's famous primary colour palette (including Little Red).
Very Little Red Riding Hood by Teresa Heapy - where the wolf is worn down by the energy and persistence of a "threenager" Little Red.