Monday, May 2, 2011

Book Review: Little Red Riding Hood by Jerry Pinkney



Black Red Riding Hood, mother and grandmother. All with beautiful loosely coiled natural hair. Black author AND illustrator! Beautiful art work.

The above was Mg3's choice for story time today.

I've heard several versions of this story and wondered which path this author would take. While all the characters but the wolf and woodsman were Black, Pinkney kept the details and culture of the story the same as the traditional versions I've read.

The main character is named Red Riding Hood because of a red hooded cape she wears everywhere. Red lives in a village with her mother. She's instructed by her mother to deliver soup and muffins directly to her grandmother who lives in the woods. Calamity ensues both for Red and her grandmother when she disobeys her mother by allowing a wolf in the woods to distract and trick her.

I cringed a little as I read about the wolf swallowing the grandmother whole and later doing the same to Red. I closely watch Mg3's face. She looked very serious and concerned. I only continued reading because I expected a happy ending from the author's pointed repetition that the wolf has swallowed both characters whole.

Mg3 continued to look somber as we read about the wolf's satisfied slumber and the speculation of a woodman who hears the wolf's loud snoring and wonders what has happened to his friend--the grandmother. I cringed some more when the woodman guesses what the wolf has done, slaughters him and quickly makes an incision through the wolf's huge belly to free Red and her grandmother.

As we read about them jumping out one by one Mg3's body sagged with relief and I exhaled. She looked up at me with a smile that said. "OK, I can live with that!"

I think it's a good idea to look through stories before reading them to your children. Not necessarily as a deterrent, but to help you be better prepared for the ensuing conversation.

I'm reviewing this story because the above experience caused me to reflect upon the caliber of dilemmas we present to our children in modern stories. I thought about the fairy tales I grew up with and the Haitian folk tales my family shared. When people disobeyed or moved outside the law, they died or suffered serious consequences. Limbs were lost, blood was spilled and deviants were ostracized. I pondered that these are some black and morbid tales to be sharing with young children, yet I don't remember walking away from these stories in terror. Somehow my childish mind could accept harsh outcomes if I could identify justice in it. I had a strong sense of what was expected of me and the consequences of choosing a foolish path.

In comparison, the stories we tell today seem fluffy. We often prefer movies to books. The violence is often pointless. We use special effects and impressive fighting choreography to captivate our audiences, but sometimes I find it difficult to reconcile myself to what I'm watching--as Mg3 was able to do with Red Riding Hood--because the mission is vague and there's no clear justice behind the tragedy. At times, the lesson learned is too weak or vague to sustain what I've seen.

Are we doing our kids a disservice?

I don't have any answers. This is just something I'm chewing on.

Any thoughts?




4 comments:

  1. This book looks phenom! My daughter & son will love seeing a book with characters whom look like them. I work in a library and will ensure this particular version is added to our collection. Thank you for the review.

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  2. You're welcome! There are some gems out there! Glad you're adding it to your library collection.

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  3. I actually had this same conversation with my students today. My mother is from Texas. She used to read classic fairytales to us that would make the hair stand up on our arms; they were bloody and violent and tragic and thrilling, and we loved them. You are right in your assessment of their value. There were honest woodsmen, brave maidens, and conniving kings, but more importantly, there were good and bad choices, with justice meted out to those who chose poorly. My brothers and I learned life lessons at our mother's knee, listening to those tales. I doubt any media today could so instruct.

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  4. Candis--what you've said really resonates with me. The weak stuff we give out to day isn't getting the job done. Our reasons for doing it (i.e they can't handle it) doesn't hold up. Mg3 has asked me to read her this story over and over.

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