I hadn't realized that the book is actually a collection of eight short stories, each one a retelling, in some twisted and often very funny way, of the Red Riding Hood story. But what really surprised me was that the introduction was nearly my favorite part of the whole book! Vande Velde writes about all the things that are just odd about the original tale, mentioning things that have bugged me since I was a child. It was so funny - much like Christopher Moore's Fool, which takes King Lear to task for all the things that have always bugged me about that story.
Some particularly delightful excerpts from the introduction:
There are different versions, but they all start with a mother who sends her daughter into the woods, where there is not only a wolf, but a talking, cross-dressing wolf. We are never told Little Red Riding Hood's age, but her actions clearly show that she is much too young, or too dimwitted, to be out of the house alone.
How would you feel if your parents called you "Little Blue-Plaid Catholic School Uniform" or "little Green Sweatshirt with the Hole at the Elbow"?
And what happened later in life, when Little Red Riding Hood was no longer little? Did she shift to "Medium-Sized Blue-Beaded Sweater"? Did she eventually become "Size-Large and Yes-That-DOES-Make-Your-Butt-Look-Enormous Jeans"?
I don't like to criticize anyone's family, but I'm guessing these people are not what you'd call close. Little Red doesn't realize a wolf has substituted himself for her grandmother. I only met my grandmother three times in my entire life, but I like to think I would have noticed if someone claiming to be my grandmother had fur fangs, and a tail.
I'd better stop now, before I copy out the whole thing. I love it! And the stories themselves, well, if you think eight tales all based on the Little Red Riding Hood story might get tedious or repetitive, then you must never have read any books by Vivian Vande Velde. Each story is completely different, taking the point of view of different characters - Red's, the grandmother's, the wolf's - even the cloak's!
The stories are delightfully connected - and distinguished from each other - by each of their very first lines. For example:
Once upon a time, before department stores and designer labels, there was a young seamstress named Georgette.
Once up on a time, before superhighways and hotel chains, a wolf was journeying through the woods.
Once upon a time, before online dating services, there was a granny who had an unwelcome suitor.
Such a lot of fun! The stories are each accompanied by a photograph that perfectly suits the theme of the tale. "The Little Red Headache" one made me laugh out loud - and the Little Red of that story reminded me quite a bit of the Little Red from the Looney Toons cartoon. Remember that one?
The cover of this book is lovely and arresting - even if I hadn't already been a fan of Vivian Vande Velde's writing, I would have picked up this book. However, it did make me expect a suspenseful, adolescent angsty kind of fairytale book, not the whimsical, witty and intelligently humorous tales contained inside. My library shelves this with the middle readers, but I think it has appeal to teens and adults as well. I'm recommending it to both my daughters (8 and 10 years old). I am sure they will love it as much as I did.
Reviews of other books by Vivian Vande Velde:
A Hidden Magic
Heir Apparent (my favorite!)
Three Good Deeds
Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde (Marshall Cavendish, 2010)
Also reviewed at:
A Bookshelf Monstrosity: "Vivian Vande Velde imbues each story with originality, humor, and creepiness."
Charlotte's Library: "Many I delighted in, others simply liked just fine, and I wish there had been more. It's clear that Vande Velde had great fun writing these, and I had great fun reading them!"
Small Review: "Some of the stories are sweet, some are horrifying, but all showcase VVV’s wry humor. The real triumph of these stories is that each is unique and I never felt like I was reading the same story over and over again."