Little Red Riding Hood and the Dragon (Harry N. Abrams)
Written by Ying Chang Compestine
Illustrated by Joy Ang
For ages: 4-8
Discovering a great retelling of an old fairy tale classic is always enjoyable. This version is told to us by a big but not bad wolf who wants to set the story straight. Red Riding Hood came from China. She was bringing her Nǎinai herbal soup & a rice cake. Unfortunately, Nǎinai gets eaten up by a big bad dragon who takes her place in the sick bed, waiting to devour Little Red. The confrontation between the two is a real battle where Red has to find objects around the house to fight back the fearsome beast.
Beyond the great story are fantastic illustrations. They have the perfect mixture of cartoon style and classic children’s picture books. There are clever, unexpected images where you can tell Joy Ang is having a lot of fun with the book. There’s a hilarious cross-section where we see into the dragon’s stomach where Nǎinai is waiting to be rescued. Red uses a yo-yo and silk ribbons as tools against her enemy. The backgrounds are pretty plain, but it’s the character designs where Ang’s talent shines through.
- The book is perfect for a comparison and contrast activity with another Little Red Riding Hood retelling. Because of the narrative framing, it could also be used to teach point of view with a text like The True Story of the Three Little Pigs as Told by the Big Bad Wolf.
- Researching the details of Chinese culture could be a fun activity for groups who can then share out. Groups can learn more about the Great Wall of China, Dragons in Chinese folklore, herbal soup, rice cakes, the yo-yo as a weapon, and more. Then they can share what they learned with the entire class.
- Students can remix a classic fairy tale character using elements from their culture or update them for the modern era. Think of Cinderella as a skater in modern-day Seattle. Jack in the Beanstalk takes place in West Africa. Goldilocks encountered three Bengal tigers in India. So many fun options to breathe new life into old stories.
Three Little Vikings (Peachtree)
Written & Illustrated by Bethan Woollvin
For ages: 5-9
A brand new fairy tale falls into our laps with this delightful book. Ebba, Helga, and Wren are three little Viking girls who are best friends. Ebba is a redhead who wields an ax. Helga is a blonde with braids & glasses. Wren is dark-haired and wears a crossbody bag. Think of a mix of modern elements, Viking elements, and The Powerpuff Girls. One day they hear something scary in the woods, but the Chieftain doesn’t seem to think it’s a big deal. Over the next few days, more events point to a dangerous threat outside the community. The three girls head off into the woods with a reference book to help them identify what is causing all these problems. They quickly discover it’s a troll!
I love that this book teaches children to question authority when their responses from them don’t make sense with what is happening around you. The book could be used to touch on so many contemporary issues where adults have buried their heads in the sand despite clear signs of something troubling approaching us. Three Little Vikings showcases that children, especially girls, should be listened to more often. The arrogant Chieftain usually responds to the girls with, “I know best,” which is one of the most infuriating things to hear from an adult who is wrong when you are a kid. The illustrations here are spectacular, recalling classic picture books but also with a modern sensibility. One of the books I’ve had the most fun reading this year. I also love that Helga has a prosthetic leg, something never mentioned in the text but an excellent detail for children with physical disabilities.
- Comparison & Contrast between the girls and the Chieftain would be an excellent activity. Character traits also tie into that as each character looks and behaves so differently from the other.
- What happens next? Have students write & illustrate the next installment of the Three Little Vikings saga. What creature do they encounter next? Where do they journey to? What problem will they have to use their brains & brawn to solve?
- A reflective journal on being diminished could be a good one. Have students think & write about a time they were made to feel dumb or unimportant, even by a grown-up. What was it like to feel that way? How did they move away from that feeling? What will they do one day when they are adults and aren’t sure if a child is right about something?