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Wolves will (not) be Wolves: A Modern-Day Feminist Fairy Tale

Authored by Frances Stickley
Illustrated by Hannah Abbo
Published by Bonnier Books Ltd

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The subtitle of this book does rather give the game away, and this feminist tale twists the basic premise of most well-known versions of Little Red Riding Hood: a helpless girl in danger from a predatory monster.  Of course, being the protagonist in a feminist fairy tale, this Little Red is far from helpless.

Stickley’s rhyming story is an intertextual journey for Little Red, who is keen for an adventure but, as she enters the forest on her way to her grandmother’s house, she passes warning signs nailed up by orders of the king: don’t stop to pick flowers; do stick to the path; don’t talk to wolves, and don’t stay out after dark. Then, as Little Red makes her way along the path through the forest she comes across its inhabitants (including Goldilocks, Hansel and Gretel and The Three Little Pigs) who are terrified into inaction by rumours of the wolf and the dangers it presents.  Little Red decides to take matters into her own hands and inspires the other characters to act against the wolf: ‘This is not his territory and we are not his prey!’

Following the story itself, is a two-page section by campaigner Laura Coryton on how to explore change-making with children, and the inclusion of this section confirms the didactic nature of this twisted fairy tale. Of course, such a didactic approach to fairy tales is nothing new, and Perrault concludes every story in his 1697 collection Stories or Tales from Past Times with a moral (or indeed two).  For me, however, this does raise a question about whether there is space in Wolves will (not) be Wolves for meanings beyond those to which we are directed by the author’s framing of the tale, the subtitle of ‘a modern-day feminist fairy tale’ and the commentary on change-making.

Hannah Abbo’s illustrations are a mixture of single page and double page spreads and include the use of speech bubbles and signage to reinforce the text’s underlying message.  Simple and stylised multi-ethnic characters are created through textured block shapes, and bold colours are used to convey different environments and times of day.

This book would work as a class reader to initiate discussion on justice, agency and change-making. It would be appropriate for children in Key Stage 1, but also could also be used to make comparisons between different versions of Little Red Riding Hood and/or intertextual fairy tales with children in Key Stage 2.