Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Girl in Red (Story and Pictures by Roberto Innocenti, Written by Aaron Frisch)

Published in 2012 by Creative Editions

Roberto Innocenti's The Girl in Red is a modern-day version of the classic tale Little Red Riding Hood. The plot is the same, but the setting is different; the story takes place in the big city. There is still a deep forest, but in this version, it is called "The Wood." A little girl in a red coat still meets a wicked wolf; however, "a good story is magic." The endings can change.

The story opens with a group of children sitting in a room surrounded by toys. A granny-type figure, who seems to have come from another time and place, is sitting on the table: "Draw close, children, and I will weave you a tale. Toys can be fun. But a good story is magic. And there is no better time for one than when rain is tapping at your window. Know this, though, children: Stories are like the skies. They can change, bring surprises, catch you without a coat. Look up all you want, but you never really know what's coming."

The little girl is named Sophia. She lives with her mother and sister, and her grandmother lives on the other side of the forest, which is actually a large city. "Nana" is not feeling well and could use some company, so Sophia fills her backpack with biscuits, honey, and oranges, puts on her hooded, red coat, and heads for her grandmother's. The city is described as a big forest, and there are dangers everywhere. Sophia must learn the ways of the wilderness; she must learn how to survive. The illustrations are filled with evil images and graffiti and portray a city that is wasting away in crime and filth. The text of the story is separated from the illustrations in what appear to be text boxes. The illustrations are appropriate for the way the story is written. On her journey to grandma's house, Sophia takes in the forest's "wonderments" in the city: Music, a man playing a violin and begging for money; Magic, a man who appears to have had his head decapitated also begging for money (or is it a statue?); and Mysteries, a policeman standing near a murder scene.

Sophia finally reaches THE WOOD, the greatest wonderment of all, the heart of the forest. This illustration reminded me of New York's Times Square with lots of traffic, the subway, and people everywhere; I don't know if this was the author's intention or not. Sophia stops by her favorite shop, the window of wonders, which is filled with "monsters, princesses, dark fates, and happily-ever afters. Images of the past and the future." The toys are modern; the dolls are portrayed either voluptuous or violent, perhaps a sign of the times. Many of the dolls and toys are holding guns.

Sophia continues her journey towards Nana's house but meets the "jackals" who are watching and waiting to
take advantage of unsuspecting little girls. Suddenly a smiling hunter appears, who is really the wolf in disguise, to come to her rescue: "What big teeth he has. Dark and strong and perfect in his timing. Sophia tells him of her grandmother and her little home. Of the biscuits and honey." The hunter offers to take Sophia to her grandmother's on the back of his motorcycle, but drops her off right before they reach their destination. The hunter, or wolf in disguise, plans his evil deed.

The story shifts back to the children listening to the tale, and they all begin crying, but the old woman says, "Now, children, do not be ashamed of your tears! They are as natural as the rain. But they are not necessary here. . . . Stories are magic. Who says they can have only one ending?"

The color of the text boxes in the illustrations change from gray to bright orange: "Picture this instead, if you like. A woodcutter sees a wolf prowling about a home. He makes a call. The police are fast to appear, swooping in with the setting sun. The wolf is snared; a family is spared. The stars will shine on the forest tonight."

I enjoyed reading this modern-day version of this classic tale; however, I do not recommend it for young children. The illustrations are dark, sinister, violent, and often the images are not appropriate for a younger audience. I would recommend this book for older students, perhaps ages 11 and up. Like Grimm's classic fairy tales, perhaps this book would be better read by adults. This book must be read several times to be truly understood because there are so many images in the illustrations that have symbolic meaning.

Read this book! It is definitely different.

Roberto Innocenti's Official Website
Source of Images
Find this book in your local library.

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