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Fractured Fairy Tales: comparing versions of Red Riding Hood

We are often approached by schools for different versions of classic and favourite tales, often referred to as fractured fairy tales. It is great to look at the retelling of well-known stories as part of a classroom topic as it helps children to think critically about text and pictures, which will then support their writing.

Illustrator Louisa Kewell looked at some recently published versions and discovered some surprise endings.

Little Red, Bethan Woollvin, Macmillan

Talented newcomer Bethan Woollvin introduces Little Red, a strong little girl who is far too clever to be fooled by a wolf wearing a ridiculous disguise. Woollvin’s clever use of two dark eyes and limited colour palette creates a visually striking satirical narrative with an amusing and slightly dark ending. Children of different ages will enjoy this strong picture book and perhaps interpret it differently.

Little Red Hood, Marjolaine Leray, translated by Sarah Ardizzone, Phoenix Yard Books 

Marjolaine Leray cuts out Grandma and skips straight to the point in this version of the story we love. Like Bethan Woollvin’s Little Red, Marjolaine Leray has opted for a minimal style by using a limited cast of two characters and sticking to just two colours- red and black- the colours most associated with negative connotations. We just know this is going to end badly. The colour choice is not the only eerie thing about this picture book. The scrawled illustrations make a sinister-looking wolf and a very ominous-looking Red. At first, the wolf manipulates her like a limp marionette, but do not be fooled. This Red Riding Hood requires no huntsman to save her. Her absent expression does not give away her plot, and when Red questions the gullible wolf’s personal hygiene, he believes her. A rather forbidding re-telling with an unexpected ending. Perfect for 7+ children with a dark sense of humour.

Little Red Riding Hood, retold by Josephine Evetts Secker, Illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli, Barefoot Books 

Josephine Evetts Secker and Nicoletta Ceccoli’s retelling of Little Red Riding Hood has a nostalgic feel and is more reminiscent of the traditional Brothers Grimm story. Nicoletta Ceccoli’s illustrations transport us to a hazy dream; her use of soft pastels gives her work the warming glow we may associate with childhood memories. It is great as a first introduction to the original story.

Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion, Alex T. Smith, Scholastic, PB £6.99

Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion completely turns the traditional Brothers Grimm story on its head through a change of setting.  A hungry lion gets more than he bargains for when a mischievous Red plays with him as though he were a doll. This sassy character has been given a modern twist by ditching her cloak- because, of course, it’s far too warm in the African Savanna- and opting for a cooler red dress. Alex T. Smith’s illustrations and text work together to create an ironic tone. This one is guaranteed to make both adults and children chuckle.

Very Little Red Riding Hood, Teresa Heapy and Sue Heap, David Fickling

Although this Red is probably only 3-4 years old, she is one tough cookie who has both the wolf and grandma running around in circles trying to please her. Charming illustrations depict an amiable wolf you would not mind inviting for a cup of tea. The perfect bedtime story where all three main characters have a happy ending.

Little Red Riding Hood, illustrated by Ed Bryan, Nosy Crow

This Little Red has hung up her cloak and prefers to wear a red hoodie instead. The items Red collects along the way to Grandma’s house help her to defeat the wolf. A decision-making app has also been created by Nosy Crow to help children write their own endings within the framework of this well-known narrative.

 More great versions for comparative study are available in our Little Red pack

  • Joan Holub, Melissa Sweet  Little Red Writing
  • Anthony Browne Into the Forest
  • Algy Craig-Hall, Ali Smith The Deep Dark Wood
  • Diana and Christyan Fox The Cat, the Dog, Little Red, the Exploding Eggs, the Wolf and Grandma’s Wardrobe

Taking it Further

Red Riding Hood is one of the most referenced fairy tales. How does this Volkswagon Passat advert from 1988 use themes and motifs from the story?

Comparing versions of Red Riding Hood with pupils aged 9+, some key questions 

Fractured versions of Red Riding Hood are largely dependent on a reader’s knowledge of an older version. Without this knowledge, some of the humour or irony may go undetected. You might start by reading a version of the story from wither a Perrault or Grimms fairy tales collection.

  • Little Red Character: How old is Little Red in this version of the story? Is Little Red a Girl or a Boy? Do these choices affect the message of the story?
  • Adult characters: Does Little Red have a mother? What role does the mother play in the story?
  • The wolf: is the wolf a real wolf? What three words best describe the wolf’s character?
  • Little Red and the Wolf: what is the relationship between Little Red and the Wolf?
  • The red cloak/coat/dress: does someone give this item of clothing to Red Riding Hood? What is it made from?
  • The warning: Is Little Red given a warning? Does she listen to the warning?
  • The setting: where is the story set? Is the setting important to the story?
  • The ending: how does the story end? Is anyone punished? Do any of the characters change?
  • The narrator: who tells the story? Is there a specific point of view? Can you trust the narrator?
  • The message: does the story have a moral or a message?

Select two versions for a more detailed comparison. The Double Bubble Thinking map can be used to help you organise your thinking. The connected bubbles are used for identifying things that the stories have in common and the outer bubbles are used for identifying differences.

Use the Double Bubble maps to help you prepare a talk on the similarities and differences between the two stories that you can share with others.

Let us know your favourite versions in the comments below. How do you use re-tellings in your classroom?