How could Little Red Riding Hood
Have been so very good
And still keep the wolf from the door?
Job? Father? Mother?
No! She had none.
So where in the world did the money come from?
I need to ask it:
Who filled her basket?
The story books never tell.
from the song “How Could Red Riding Hood?” by A. P. Randolph, 1925
* * *
Today’s title is Little Red Riding Hood, retold and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, a 1984 Caldecott honor book.
You wouldn’t think there would be anything wrong with this retelling, based on the lovely cover illustration, would you? But eagle-eyed readers, not just tipsy types, will have spotted the bottle in Red’s basket, and that meant trouble eight years ago in Culver City, CA. You see, Red’s mother had packed the basket with “a loaf of bread, some sweet butter, and a bottle of wine”. Presumably for medicinal purposes only. But according to an AP news article, in May 1990,
First-grade readers of Little Red Riding Hood have more to fear than the Big Bad Wolf, say school officials. It’s the wine she has in her basket.
An award-winning adaptation of the classic Grimm’s fairy tale has been pulled from the youngsters’ recommended supplemental reading list because the heroine has wine in the basket of goodies she brings her ailing grandmother. [The basket, as packed by Red’s mama, contains “a loaf of fresh bread, some of this sweet bread, and a bottle of wine”]
“It gives the younger ones the wrong impression about alcohol. If they should refrain, why give them a story saying it’s OK?” said Vera Jashni, assistant superintendent for instruction [with the Culver City Unified School District].
“I don’t think the basket of wine is a good concept for kindergarten or first grade,” said school board member Robert Knopf. He said he would rather have seen “a nice thing like cookies and cakes or a picnic basket with food in it.”
Jashni, who ordered the ban, said it was the final paragraph of the story that sealed her decision — the part after the woodsman kills the Big Bad Wolf.
“The grandmother drank some of the wine, and . . . after a while, the grandmother felt quite strong and healthy, and began to clean up the mess that the wolf had left in the cottage.” ..
Houghton-Mifflin Co., a Boston-based textbook publisher, distributed [the title] as part of a 10-book package, and California education authorities placed it on the state’s recommended supplemental reading list for 5- and 6-year-olds.
Houghton-Mifflin spokesman Sandy Caswell said the ban was incomprehensible.
“The fact that it’s an award-winning book, and one we felt was a good retelling of the story, led us to select it as part of the reading series,” she said. Caswell added the company had received complaints about the book from three other school districts, all of them in California.
Another version of the AP story mentions Gina Grawe,
a teacher at Linwood Howe Elementary School, [who] organized a day-long protest last week over the ban.
“Is this the beginning of book-banning? One person should not have that much control to make that decision,” Grawe said. “I’m sure someone could find something objectionable in any book — there’s drinking in Tom Sawyer.”
And oh so much more. But that’s fodder for another day.
In a nice twofer, a 1925 song about Little Red Riding Hood, “How Could Red Riding Hood?” by A.P. Randolph, apparently holds the distinction of being the first song banned from the radio for being “improper and suggestive”. Click here to hear the song and for more information on the song, and click here for A.P. Randolph’s lyrics.
Of course, the tale of Little Red Riding has long been fraught with meaning, as this history of the story and the page of annotations at the wonderful SurLaLune Fairy Tale Pages points out, well before Bruno Bettelheim examined The Uses of Enchantment and Catherine Orenstein removed the hood in the more recent Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Sex, Morality and the Evolution of a Fairy Tale.
Trina Schart Hyman was born in 1939 and died in 2004 at the age of 65 of breast cancer. According to her online biography by Denise Ortakales,
She grew up in a rural area of Pennsylvania learning to read and draw at an early age. She credits her mother for instilling in her the joy of books by reading to her from the time she was an infant. She spent a whole year wearing a red satin cape that her mother had made for her because her favorite story was Little Red Riding Hood.
Ms. Schart Hyman’s retelling of the Grimm fairy tale, was “one of her favorite stories.” From her Caldecott Honor speech in 1985,
I don’t do sketches, or preliminaries. I think about it instead. I think about the story and about what it means and about how it can be brought to life in pictures. I think about the characters and what makes them tick and where they’re coming from and where they might be going to.
I think about all this a lot. I think about it so much that eventually I start to dream about it. And when my dreams start to become the dreams of the characters in the book, when their reality becomes a part of my subconscious, when I can live in their landscape, when I put on a little red cape with a hood and tie the red ribbons under my chin, then I know what to do with my pictures.
And from an interview with Miss Ortakales, in answer to a question about her favorite childhood picture books,
My favorite book was Grimm’s Fairy Tales. There weren’t picture books the way we know them now when I was a kid. There were books with pictures in them, but the first picture books that I remember were Little Golden Books. I love Grimm’s Fairy Tales a lot. I grew up on them, I believed them. My rules for life were in Grimm’s Fairy Tales. I believed in that kind of good and evil, and that magic could happen. That you could walk along and find a magic stone. I believed that for a long time. And I don’t know, maybe I still kind of believe it only it just hasn’t happened yet.