Little Red, by Bethan Woollvin; Peachtree Publishers, $16.95, 32 pages, ages 3-6.
Wolves remain popular subjects in picture books this year–check out our October write-up on the topic–and in this sly retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, the wolf cuts a mean figure. In debut picture-book creator Bethan Woollvin’s hands, however, the menacing wolf meets his match. Swathed in scarlet red from head to toe, Little Red is nobody’s fool, and when she crosses the wolf en route to her grandmother’s house, our plucky heroine knows right away what he’s planning to do, and won’t let him get away unpunished for it, either. A chance wolf encounter might scare some little girls away, “but not this little girl,” says the narrator. (This refrain is repeated throughout, highlighting Little Red’s steely composure.) Little Red follows the traditional storyline, but, as with any retelling, there’s a twist–take a wild guess who wields the axe in this version and comes home with a brand-new fur coat. (Grandma, sadly, never comes back.)
Bold graphic gouache illustrations rendered in black, white, red, and gray have a strong, slightly retro feel, and Little Red, with her unsmiling, unfazed demeanor would fit right into any Jon Klassen book.
An edgy re-examination of an already twisted fairy tale, Little Red shows that smart girls can take care of themselves.
The New York Review Children’s Collection recently reissued Catherine Storr’s (1913-2001) collection of modern-day fables called The Complete Polly and the Wolf. Originally published in the U.K. in 1955, Storr’s stories of little Polly outwitting the doltish Wolf are not terribly familiar to American audiences; the last publication of a Polly book in the U.S. was in 2007, and it didn’t make the international splash that it should have. Here’s hoping the New York Review’s incarnation encourages a new generation to discover the plucky, mid-century heroine who relies on her own cunning and resourcefulness not to become the Wolf’s dinner. Original black-and-white drawings by Marjorie Ann Watts and Jill Bennett are as delightful and whimsical as the tales they illustrate. Anglophiles and collectors of children’s literature will want to add this one to their collections. (The Complete Polly and the Wolf, by Catherine Storr, illustrated by Marjorie Ann Watts and Jill Bennett; The New York Review Children’s Collection, $17.95 304 pages, ages 6-9.)
Meanwhile, in Jean Leroy’s recent picture book entitled A Well-Mannered Young Wolf, the hungry protagonist sets out on his first hunting excursion. Wolf law decrees that before enjoying a meal, a predator must honor his prey’s final wishes. Though the well-mannered young wolf accommodates various last requests, they’re at the expense of his empty stomach. Will courtesy prevail in the wild? Young readers will adore this wry unexpected examination of manners (especially with a kindly wolf as the nice guy). Illustrator Matthieu Maudet’s latest collaboration with Leroy proves the combination is a winning match; deceptively simple pen-and-ink illustrations rendered in a trio of tints are bold and reminiscent of comic-book art. Originally published in 2013 in French as Un jeune loup bien éduqué, the story retains its wit and charm in translation. (A Well-Mannered Young Wolf, by Jean Leroy, illustrated by Matthieu Maudet; Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, $16.00, 30 pages, ages 3-7.)