Why straying from stories is fun!
Little Red Reading Hood by Lucy Rowland and Ben Mantle, Macmillan
What's it about?
This is a clever, innovative and highly amusing retelling of classic fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood. In this version, Red is a voracious reader who encounters a big, bad wolf when returning a book to the library. Instead of disguising himself as a grandmother, the wolf pretends to be a librarian. Rather than meeting a grisly end, the library gives the wolf a new beginning.
What can we learn?
All stories can be reinvented, nothing is ever set in stone and there are no limits to the imagination. If you don't like the direction a plot is taking, then make up a new one! This is wisdom that can also be applied to real life; just like the wolf, we are capable of changing our own narratives.
What makes this stand out? Little Red Reading Hood gives agency to its main character and the reader too. Unlike the original story, this version is empowering and promotes creativity and the imagination. By retelling the story, the author has already demonstrated that it's possible to rewrite anything - even a classic. This message is reinforced by both Red and the wolf having the freedom to change their endings.
Little Red Reading Hood shows children that anyone can have creative control and everyone has the ability to reshape a story's structure - fictional or real. The transformative power of literature is highlighted as even the wolf becomes reformed through reading. The illustrations perfectly evoke the spell cast by a brilliant book such as this one.
About those illustrations...
They are gorgeous - colourful, captivating and full of enchantment. Ben Mantle's images create a convincing fairy tale world and make this reading experience even more immersive. The forest scenes are beautiful with sunlight drifting through the branches. I love the golden light that radiates from open books, illuminating the magic within their pages. The endpapers are brilliant, offering more information about Red's character at the beginning and glimpses of future adventures at the back.
The wolf's facial expressions are hilarious throughout the book. I'm particularly fond of his gleeful grins as he sprints through the forest with his tongue hanging out, and later on, as he imagines himself in a new career as a shoe-maker. There's a playful nod to the original story as we see the wolf tip his hat at a woodcutter on the steps of the library.
Why we love it...
Little Red Reading Hood is perfect for lovers of literature and anyone hoping to foster an affection for books in young people. It celebrates the art of storytelling and the endurance of fairy tales. This book also promotes reading and highlights the importance of libraries.
The non-violent resolution is wonderful, as is how Red and the librarian save themselves - with the help of their wits and their passion for stories. At a time when there is a lack of diversity in children's books, it's fantastic that the libarian is a Black, Asian or minorithy ethnic character. The rhyming text is lively and engaging and adds to the fairy tale atmosphere, and I've already mentioned the fabulous illustrations.
Why you need it...
Little Red Reading Hood explores the benefits of reading and inspires young people to make up their own stories and reimagine the classics. By demonstrating how even villainous characters and those typically framed as vulnerable can change their fates, this shows children they have power over their destinies too. In addition to all of this, Little Red Reading Hood is just so much fun and ideal for entertaining your own little readers.
About the author:
Lucy Rowland is a speech and language therapist with years of experience of working with children, which shines through in all of her work. Lucy has written lots of excellent books that connect with young people. We have also reviewed Wanda's Words got Stuck, Sammy Claws and There's No Such Thing as Unicorns and love them too. A companion to Little Red Reading Hood, The Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Book, was published in January (read our review + interview with Lucy Rowland).
About the illustrator:
Ben Mantle has illustrated many award-winning and bestselling books for children, including several that he also wrote himself. Ben recently collaborated on Boot with Irish author Shane Hegarty which was a 2020 Dublin Citywide Read. Ben illustrated one of our favourite picture books of 2020, King of the Swamp and the cover of The House at the Edge of Magic, one of the best middle grade books we've read.