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Little Red Riding Hood


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No doubt about it--Caldecott Medalist Montresor has a unique, often disturbing artistic vision in his works. This has never been more evident than in his interpretation of Perrault's classic tale. The artist adheres closely to the source, an unrepentantly grisly story that rarely appears in its original form. His Red Riding Hood is a model of earthy innocence; the wolf an urbane, dapper figure turned out with hat and walking stick. Played out against Montresor's trademark dark backdrops, the story unfolds with a theatrical simplicity that accentuates its violent and even sexual undertones. Accompanied by an appropriately gruesome illustration, the tale ends abruptly and segues into an uneasy visual denouement: Red Riding Hood floats inside the wolf's swollen stomach across the final three wordless pages. When the hunter appears in the background on the final page, no clue is given as to his purpose and there is no hint of redemption. Older children and adults may well be riveted by the ambiguity and ferocity here, but youngest readers--raised on more benign versions of the tale--will probably be scared out of their socks. Ages 4-up. (Oct.)

Gr 4 Up-- From the cover illustration, which both descends from and pays tribute to Gustave Dore's wood engraving of Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf, to the melancholy black endpapers, Montresor has provided a reinterpretation that is both astonishing and esoteric. Although Montresor chooses to omit it, Perrault himself appended a highly didactic moral in verse. In it he warns ``. . . pretty girls, who're bred as pure as pearls,. . . they may serve one day as feast for a wolf or other beast.'' It is the subtext and cryptic nature of the tale that Montresor enlarges and underscores masterfully. In disturbing illustrations heavily overlaid with black, he piles up images and scenes that will haunt readers: a graceful prepubescent Red Riding Hood who is watched silently by the town's women and girls, voyeurs at some obscure rite of passage; the encounter with the beguiling, dapper wolf; the palpable pause as Red Riding Hood stands, uncertain at the dark forbidding threshold of Grandmother's house; the wolf greedily devouring Red Riding Hood head first; three wordless illustrations following the end of the text in which the girl floats cruciformly, transformed and serene, within the distended belly of the wolf--seemingly ready for rebirth, absorbed into the unending chain of reproduction. While Montresor offers an ostensibly straightforward text, he has altered Perrault's original intent both by omitting the concluding moral and by silhouetting the figure of the Grimms's hunter on the final plate. His daring, enigmatic illustrations, saturated with layers of mysterious symbolism, are clearly his vehicle for reinterpretation. It is difficult to assign an appropriate age for this work, but it clearly does not belong on the picture-book shelves. Large folklore collections should consider this provocative version that will reward with endless possibilities for study, discussion, and comparison. --Kate McClelland, Perrot Memorial Library, Greenwich, CT

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