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Stories For Children, Histories of Childhood. Volume II

Rosie Findlay
Sébastien Salbayre

Crossover Versions of “Little Red Riding Hood”

Sandra L. Beckett


Crossover Versions of “Little Red Riding Hood”
“Little Red Riding Hood” is perhaps the archetypal children’s story. At the same time, it is a story that captures the imagination of authors and illustrators for both adults and children, as well as readers of all ages. From its origins in the oral tradition, the tale has been a crossover work and authors have been “crosswriting” it for an audience of adults and children since its literary début in France in the seventeenth century. This paper analyses a selection of multi-layered retellings of “Little Red Riding Hood” that were written and published for, or are read by, a dual audience of children and adults.

Texte intégral

1The little girl in red who made her literary debut in Perrault’s Contes more than three hundred years ago continues to fascinate authors, illustrators, and readers, both young and old, around the globe. No other fictional character has inspired as many retellings as Little Red Riding Hood, a fact that was driven home when I collected approximately two hundred contemporary versions from at least twenty countries to write Recycling Red Riding Hood (2002). The story of “Little Red Riding Hood” is perhaps the archetypal children’s story. The popular fairy-tale heroine also fascinates researchers, and I find myself now writing a companion volume, titled Crosswriting Red Riding Hood, which examines contemporary retellings that appeal to a crossover audience. This paper considers briefly a selection of multi-layered retellings of “Little Red Riding Hood” that were published for, or are read by, a dual audience of children and adults. They have been chosen from a wide variety of countries to show the popularity of this particular children’s story with crossover authors and audiences around the world.

  • 1 Surprisingly, Pommaux admits that he hadn’t given the references any thought when he drew the wolf (...)

2Even picture book retellings of “Little Red Riding Hood” can address adults as well as children, since innovative graphics and a complex dialogue between text and image often provide multiple levels of meaning that invite readings on different levels by all ages. Many picture books contain intertextual allusions that cannot be decoded by children and therefore seem to be included for the amusement of the adults who mediate children’s books. A well-known example is Anthony Browne’s parodie reworking of Walter Crane’s famous illustration of the encounter of Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf in his picture book The Tunnel (1989). With playful humour, Browne integrates the unmistakable wolf dressed in peasant clothes and carrying a twisted walking stick into the bark of a gigantic, nightmarish tree. In a very clever blending of styles, the contemporary picture book artist surrealistically mimics Crane’s nineteenth-century illustration. Young readers will certainly make out the wolf in the tree and the most attentive may recognize the parodie intent since Browne carefully adds an intermediary level to the parody by hanging a framed print of the original illustration on Rose’s bedroom wall, but the allusion seems addressed particularly to cultured adult viewers able to recognize it as Crane’s famous work. Likewise, only an adult is likely to associate the Degas pastel The Tub, hanging on the wall of the protagonist’s living room at the beginning of Fam Ekman’s Rodhatten og ulven (Red Hat and the wolf, 1985), with the later parodic scene, also in black and white, in which the wolf surprises the grandmother taking a bath in an oldfashioned tub. Another example of sophisticated artistic allusion in a picture book is offered by Yvan Pommaux’s John Chatterton détective (1993), in which Little Red Riding Hood is being held hostage by a cruel, narcissistic wolf to obtain from her mother the one painting he needs to complete his collection of wolves, “Le loup bleu sur fond blanc” (Blue wolf on a white background).1

3The crossover picture books mentioned thus far are essentially children’s books that include a few visual jokes for adult co-readers. Kelek takes artistic allusion to another level in her edition of Perrault’s Contes (1986), which she illustrates by using classical painting in a parodic mode. Her subtle and sophisticated allusions to past masters can only be fully appreciated by an elite audience of art lovers, although she feels they don’t need to be decoded to work. Her single plate for “Le Petit Chaperon rouge” is a masterful visual retelling that transplants the tale into the Venetian Renaissance interior of Vittore Carpaccio’s La Nascita della Vergine (The Birth of the Virgin, 1504). By replacing the almost naked baby Mary of Carpaccio’s painting with a Little Red Riding Hood clad from head to foot in a red hood and Venetian gown, Kelek subverts the image of Doré and so many other illustrators who obligingly reveal the charms of her chubby flesh for the wolf and the viewer.

4In the case of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, the recommendation: “Ages: All” is proudly displayed on the inside of the dust jacket, announces clearly that this picture book is for young and old alike. The irreverent bricolage of fairy tales may actually appeal to adults even more than children. This is due to the sophisticated meta-discourse of this self-reflexive work that plays with the codes of the genre it parodies as well as the conventions of book publishing. In “Little Red Running Shorts,” the heroine and the wolf leave in a huff, refusing to tell their story because they feel that Jack the Narrator (of “Jack in the Beanstalk” fame) has already told all in his introduction. Smith’s witty pictures depict the two main characters abandoning the panic-striken narrator and making tracks toward the left side of the page to leave the book. Their footprints lead back to the opposite page where white cutouts of the Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood indicate their absence from what Rod McGillis calls the “unstory” that ends before it begins (116).

5Sarah Moon’s controversial version of Perrault’s Little Red Riding Hood was published in 1983 by Creative Education, which is well-known for its daring, innovative picture books. Using photography to transpose the tale into a modern urban context, Moon relates the sinister events that take place during the dark hours between dusk and dawn in a series of sombre, dramatic black and white photographs. Awarded the Premio Grafico at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in 1984, the picture book received a mixed reaction of profound admiration and scandalized disapprobation. Censorship of the book was particularly widespread in the United States, where it was banned in many libraries. The controversy centred largely on the question of target audience. An Italian reader felt that the jury “mistook a very refined book for adult voyeurs for a children’s book” and an American reviewer and social worker thought that the Bologna Book Fair prize sticker should be accompanied by a red “HANDLE WITH CARE” stamp since the book can frighten even adult readers (qtd. in Garrett 9). The shocking effect of Moon’s photographs of the child model, Morgan, is not unlike that of Anne Ikhlefs 1985 film, La véritable histoire du Chaperon Rouge (The real story of Red Riding Hood), which casts a seven-year-old actress, Justine Bayard, in the role of Red Riding Hood. The realism of the media used to portray a young, flesh and blood girl in Moon’s stark, black and white photography and Ikhlef s dramatic cinematography accounts for the very powerful, shocking impact that these two exceptional retellings have on viewers.

6One of the most challenging and provocative picture books inspired by Little Red Riding Hood is Anne Ikhlef and Alain Gauthier’s Mon Chaperon Rouge (My Red Riding Hood, 1998). Although it was published by Seuil Jeunesse, it appeared hors série and is considered by many critics to be a picture book essentially for adults. Many resonances of her film, La véritable histoire du Chaperon Rouge, presented at the Cannes Film Festival in 1985, are to be found in the picture book, which explores the psychological and sexual implications of the tale. Mon Chaperon Rouge is a very sensuous text about a Riding Hood who plays with fire, apparently without getting burned. It explores the complex and ambiguous relationship of the couple formed by Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf, who are bound inseparably, as suggested in the evocative cover illustration that depicts the girl’s red dress as an elegant, swirling extension of the lascivious wolfs red tongue. Iklefs rich, multilayered text is inspired by different versions of the tale from both the literary and oral traditions, fragments of which are woven throughout her poetic narrative. Many crossover retellings, especially by women, are influenced by oral versions of the tale that addressed all ages. On one page of Mon Chaperon Rouge, a cosmic mother with moon breasts holds a miniature figure of the heroine in her arms and prepares to tell her the story of “Little Red Riding Hood.” Ikhlef insists on the ancient origins of the tale by having the mother preface her story with the words: “Un conte a plus de mille ans” (A tale is more than a thousand years old). Through the storyteller’s words to her daughter, Ikhlef reminds the reader of her own re-version that “Tout ce que tu entends/N’est pas que pour les enfants” (Everything that you hear is not only for children). The mother then proceeds to tell Perrault’s literary version, of which excerpts are embedded in quotation marks in Ikhlef’s text, written horizontally on the page of a book within the book. The bedtime story actually becomes a cradle, because the little girl in red, who falls asleep in the middle of her mother’s story and dreams with a contented smile that she is Little Red Riding Hood, is depicted sleeping inside the pages of the book with her toy wolf, while multiple anthropomorphized wolves lurk in the geometrical, stylized trees of the forest. Ikhlef also embeds numerous excerpts from earlier and lesser-known oral versions, including the wolf’s question about the path of needles and that of pins, the cannibalistic scene in which the wolf offers the little girl the flesh and blood of her grandmother, the ritualistic striptease, and the scatological happy ending in which the girl escapes by pretending she has to relieve herself. The formulaic dialogue about the wolf’s physical features is interspersed with the narrator’s rather suggestive description of the girl’s body movements as she slides onto the wolfs dark body. Gauthier’s very provocative illustration of the intimate scene shows a nude Red Riding Hood lying on top of the wolf, their heads very close together and their eyes locked in a powerful gaze. Ikhlefs Little Red Riding Hood is a complex, multifaceted character cast in a number of conflicting roles, as she becomes, in turn, an object manipulated by the wolf (as in the striking illustration of a somewhat Picasso-like wolf playing a Red Riding Hood cello), a cunning, active heroine who saves herself, a hybrid girl/wolf, a diabolical creature, and a seductress whose serpent braid suggests that she is a new Eve. The open ending of this postmodern text leaves readers to decide if this Riding Hood who keeps company with wolves has gone to heaven or hell. Although the sensuality and eroticism of both the text and the illustrations of this picture book are not unusual in contemporary European children’s books, the complexity of the images and the sophistication of the textual layering seems to make this a picture book for an older audience of adolescents and adults.

7Warja Lavater’s Le Petit Chaperon Rouge: une imagerie d’après un conte de Charles Perrault (Little Red Riding Hood: An imagery adapted from a tale by Charles Perrault, 1965), constitutes a rather interesting crossover book, because although it was originally published as a work of art sold in museums, it was almost immediately appropriated by children. The imagerie, which takes the form of an accordéon book, is not considered a book by the Swiss artist, but rather a “book-object.” The only text, found in the legend on the flyleaf at the beginning, explains the elementary code based on colours and forms, in which Little Red Riding Hood is symbolized by a red dot and the wolf by a black dot. Lavater now claims that the “pictorial language” of Le Petit Chaperon Rouge appeals to all ages, but she was initially astonished when, after the publication of the luxury edition that was the result of a copublication between the Paris editor, Adrien Maeght, and The Museum of Modern Art in New York, people began telling her that their children not only liked it, but understood it (Lavater, 42, 44). When children were given the imagerie at the Children’s Workshop of the Centre Georges Pompidou in 1965, they reacted very positively to the innovative work.

8The complex, poetic retelling “Fita verde no cabelo” (Green ribbon in the hair), by the Brazilian author João Guimarâes Rosa, was extracted from Ave, palavra (1970), a posthumous collection of poems, tales, and meditations for adults, and published as a picture book with illustrations by Roger Mello in 1992. Guimarães Rosa makes heavy demands on his adult audience, so young readers of Fita verde no cabelo are confronted with an extremely difficult text, even with the assistance of Mello’s visual interpretation. In this “nova velha estória” (new old story) about a little girl who is called Fita-Verde or Green Ribbon because she wears a large, imaginary, green ribbon in her hair, the well-known tale is told from an existentialist perspective. Her trip through the woods becomes a symbol for the journey through life. The text tells us that there is no wolf in the woods because the woodcutters have killed them all, but Mello portrays the woodcutters with wolves’ heads and Green Ribbon gazing seductively in their direction. At the bedside of her dying grandmother, depicted as a shadowy figure whose hand forms the shape of a wolf’s head (in the shadow game adults often play with children at bedtime), the protagonist has a prise de conscience and her world seems to dissolve as a result of her encounter with death. This Little Red Riding Hood is an existentialist heroine, whose Angst is symbolized by the wolf.

9Collections of fairy-tale short fiction often seem to have an ambiguous address. Priscilla Galloway’s rather macabre collection Truly Grim Tales (1995) has been reviewed as a young adult book, but libraries catalogue it in the adult collection. “The Good Mother” is a futuristic rendition of “Little Red Riding Hood,” set in a world of giant carnivorous clams and cunning beasts who attack “smoothskins,” the name given to humans by the other species. Like many revisionist versions, Galloway’s tale questions the main binary opposition Little Red Riding Hood/the wolf. Conditioned by previous readings of the tale, readers are surprised to leam that the “good mother” of the title is, in fact, the beast that attacks Ruby and her grandmother in order to feed her hungry cubs. The female “smoothskins” and the female beast are able to show compassion for one another, resolve their conflict, and come to a mutually beneficial arrangement, which is threatened by the arrival of the male hunters with their “fire sticks” (90). The tale ends with Ruby looking up at the beast who holds her in a maternal embrace after she has been accidentally shot by a hunter as she attempted to screen the beast from their guns. Pierrette Fleutiaux’s collection Métamorphoses de la reine (The Queen’s metamorphoses, 1984) crossed over in the opposite direction, as it won the prix Goncourt for short stories in 1985, but is widely read by a young adult audience. Like Galloway, Fleutiaux has published for both children and adults. Her feminist retelling of the story of Little Red Riding Hood, “Petit Pantalon Rouge, Barbe-Bleue et Notules” (Little Red Pants, Bluebeard, and Notules) is, as the title announces, a bricolage of two fairy tales, in which Petit Pantalon Rouge (or PPR as the author humorously begins calling her part way through the story) learns to tame wolves from her mother and grandmother, marries Bluebeard, delivers him from a curse, and saves his seven wives before striking off on her own. Some of the explicit sexual content of oral versions is restored in a story that subverts the traditional tale while maintaining its mythic content and blending it with a kind of modern sensual violence.

10Two years later, Annie Riis published a very poetic retelling “Ulven og Rodhette” (The Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood) in a short story collection titled Kom inn i min natt! Kom inn i min drom (Come into my night! Come into my dream!, 1986). Edited by Solveig Bohle, the collection was based on the radio program she broadcast after midnight. Although the stories were not addressed to young readers, the hour at which they aired meant that their audience was made up largely of young adults. Riis’s story is written in a very intimate first person by a young girl “between childhood and puberty,” who is simultaneously “frightened by and attracted to this Don Juan in the shape of a Wolf” (Riis, Letter). In a sensual atmosphere of colours, feelings, and desire, a very erotic encounter scene is described rather naively by the protagonist, who seems to succumb to the feel of the Wolf’s long, warm tongue licking her throat and cheeks, and seeking her mouth. Fam Ekman’s caricatural illustration on the title page of the tale portrays a rather anthropomorphic wolf with human-looking limbs, holding Little Red Riding Hood in his arms and licking her cheek while she gazes at him out of the corner of her eyes with a slight smile on her lips. After the ritualistic dialogue, Little Red Riding Hood seems at first to surrender to the Wolf, spontaneously undressing and joining him in the bed, where she covers them both with her red cloak. Like Angela Carter’s heroine in “The Company of Wolves,” she seems to embrace her erotic identity and offer her flesh to the wolf. As the big, warm, wet tongue approaches her this time, however, the girl devours first the tongue and then the entire Wolf. In this re-version, Little Red Riding Hood ends up living happily ever after with the hunter who cuts open the girl’s belly to rescue the wolf.

11When the well-known Dutch children’s author Paul Biegel was commissioned to write the give-away book for Children’s Book Week in 1977, he composed Wie je droomt ben je zelf (You are what you dream), an extended retelling of the Grimms’ version that explores the different voices in the classic tale, focalizing, in turn, on the grandmother, the wolf, and Little Red Cap. The author now believes the text is far too difficult for children, although he thinks the illustrations by Paul Hollander appeal to a young audience (Biegel, Interview). The book’s success is indicated, however, by the fact that, after thousands of copies had been given away, it was reprinted in 1990. The central chapter is devoted to the strange, symbolic dreams of the three characters after the wolf has devoured Little Red Cap and her granny. The highly original psychoanalytical interpretation of “Little Red Riding Hood” offered by the prizewinning children’s author is a crossover book that appeals to young and old alike.

  • 2 For a more detailed study of Galloway’s and Julien’s retellings, see Beckett, “Retelling Little Re (...)

12Little Red Riding Hood has also inspired crossover novels. Bye Bye Chaperon Rouge (1989) is a juvenile novel that the Québécois author Viviane Julien adapted from a 1989 general audience film by the same title, directed by Márta Mészáros. The film, which appeared in Rock Demers’s series Contes pour tous (Tales for all), was a multilingual venture, filmed in Hungarian, under the title Piroska és a farkas, and dubbed in English and French. The novel is illustrated with black and white clips from the film. Although the novel was published for a juvenile audience, the title of the series, identical to that of the film series, indicates that the tales do not target a single audience. In addition, the blurb explicitly states that Julien knows how to appeal to readers of all ages. Bye Bye Chaperon Rouge is a complex story that superposes numerous trips to the grandmother’s over a period of several months, resulting in an intricate pattern of repetitions and variations. The open ending of this complex story leaves viewers unsure if Fanny and her grandmother were, in fact, eaten by the wolf. As in Ikhlef s picture book and film, Julien’s novel and Mészáros’s film show the mixed feelings of attraction and fear that an adolescent girl feels with regard to sex and its metaphor, the wolf.2

13The fairy-tale novel Caperucita en Manhatten (Little Red Riding Hood in Manhattan, 1990), by the Spanish author Carmen Martín Gaite, the first woman to win Spain’s Premio Nacional de Literatura in 1978, was explicitly published for a crossover audience. It became one of the most successful books published in Siruela’s series Las Tres Edades (The three ages) for readers “from eight to eighty-eight,” a series created in the belief that “no clear boundaries exist between titles for children and adults.” According to the director, Michi Strausfeld, Caperucita en Manhattan illustrates, better than any other title, the series’ intention to appeal to readers of all ages (44-45). Whereas the Spanish edition is presented more like a novel for adults with its large format and the rather sober cover illustration of Norman Rockwell’s Statue of Liberty, editions in other countries are often targeted uniquely at a juvenile audience. In France, the choice of the series eliminated the possibility of a crossover audience, since the novel appeared in Flammarion’s Castor Poche series as a novel for readers 11-12 years of age. Since the French edition was marketed for a young audience, it is somewhat surprising that it did not include the thirteen childlike, black-andwhite drawings that the author did to accompany the text. In this delightful retelling, a modern, courageous Riding Hood lives on the fourteenth floor of an apartment block in Brooklyn; her unconventional, free-spirited grandmother, is a former music-hall singer who smokes loose tobacco and has had several husbands and lovers; and the wolf is a millionaire cake king by the name of Edgar Woolf, whom Sara meets in Central Park and hooks up with her lonely grandmother.

14Many of the most innovative contemporary retellings of “Little Red Riding Hood,” those that challenge literary conventions, codes, and norms, and use postmodern narrative strategies such as parody, irony, absence of closure, metafictive discourse, polyfocalization, and composite genres, are crossover works. Paradoxically, these modern narratives bring us back to the tale’s origins in the oral tradition, when it addressed a cross-audience of adults and children. They are often serious and complex retellings, many written in a minor mode, that use traditional fairy-tale imagery and motifs to address important sociocultural, psychological, and metaphysical problems for readers of all ages.



BECKETT Sandra, “Paintings, Parody, and Pastiche in Picture Books,” Children’s Literature 29, New Haven, Yale UP, 2001, 175-195.

BECKETT Sandra, “Retelling Little Red Riding Hood in Contemporary Canadian Children’s Literature,” in Windows and Words: A Look at Canadian Children’s Literature in English, ed. Hudson Aída and Cooper Susan-Ann, Ottawa, University of Ottawa Press, 2003, 61-76.

BIEGEL Paul, Wie je droomt ben je zelf, illus. Carl Hollander, Haarlem, Uitg. Mij Holland, 1977.

BIEGEL Paul, Unedited interview with Sandra L. Beckett, 5 April 2000.

BROWNE Anthony, The Tunnel, New York, Knopf, 1989.

CARTER Angela, The Bloody Chamber, New York, Penguin Books, 1979.

EKMAN Fam, Rødhatten og Ulven, Oslo, Cappelen, 1985.

FLEUTIAUX Pierrette, “Petit Pantalon Rouge, Barbe-Bleue et Notules,” in Métamorphoses de la reine, Paris, Gallimard, 1984, 103-138.

GALLOWAY Priscilla, “The Good Mother,” in Truly Grim Tales, Toronto, Lester Publishing Ltd., 1995.

GUIMARÃES Rosa João. " Fita verde no cabelo." In Ave, palavra. Rio de Janeiro: José Olympio, 1970.

GUIMARÃES Rosa João, Fita verde no cabelo: nova velha estória, illus. Roger Mello, Rio de Janeiro, Nova Fronteira, 1992.

IKHLEF Anne, La véritable histoire du Chaperon rouge, scénario et réalisation Anne Ikhlef avec Didier Sandre et Justine Bayard, 1985.

IKHLEF Anne, Mon Chaperon Rouge, illus. Alain Gauthier, Paris, Seuil Jeunesse, 1998.

JULIEN Vivane, Bye Bye Chaperon Rouge, Montréal, Québec/Amérique, 1989, translated by Frances Hanna under the title Bye Bye Red Riding Hood, Montréal, Montréal Press, 1990.

LAVATER Warja, Le Petit Chaperon Rouge: une imagerie d’après un conte de Perrault, Paris, Adrien Maeght, 1965.

LAVATER Warja, “Tête à tête: Entretien avec Warja Lavater,” Interview by Bernadette Gromer, La Revue des livres pour enfants 137-138, winter 1991,40-49.

MARTÍN Gaite Carmen, Caperucita en Manhattan, Madrid, Siruela, 1990.

MCGILLIS Rod, “‘Ages All’: Readers, Texts, and Intertexts in The Stinky Cheeseman and Other Fairly Stupid Tales,” in Transcending Boundaries: Writing for a Dual Audience of Children and Adults, edited by Sandra L. Beckett, New York, Garland, 1999, 111-126.

MESZARÔS Marta, Bye Bye Red Riding Hood, prod. Rock Demers and Gabor Hanak, written by Marta Meszarôs and Eva Pataki, co-produced by Les Productions La Fête Inc. (Canada), with the participation of Téléfilm Canada a Canadian group of private investors, Super Écran (Premier Choix TVEC Inc.) and Hungarofilm - Mokeep (Hungary) Film, 1989.

PERRAULT Charles, Le Petit Chaperon Rouge, illus. Sarah Moon, Mankato, MN, Creative Education, 1983.

PERRAULT Charles, Contes de Charles Perrault, illus. Kelek, Paris, Hatier, 1986.

POMMAUX Yvan, John Chatterton detective, Paris, L’École des loisirs, 1993.

POMMAUX Yvan, Letter to Sandra L. Beckett, 28 February 2001.

RIIS Annie, “Ulven og Rødhette,” In Kom inn i min natt, kom inn i min drøm, ed. Solveig Bøhle, illus. Fam Ekman, Oslo, Gyldendal, 1986,25-31.

RIIS Annie, Letter to Sandra L. Beckett, 4 March 2001.

SCIESZKA Jon, “Little Red Riding Shorts,” in The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, illus. Lane Smith, New York, Viking, 1992.

STRAUSFELD Michi, “Las Tres Edades: de ocho a ochenta y ocho años,” CLIJ 50, May 1993,44-45.


1 Surprisingly, Pommaux admits that he hadn’t given the references any thought when he drew the wolf s art gallery, but he now realizes that he should have, because the wolf collection fascinates adult readers (Letter). For a more detailed study of the parodie treatment of art works in picture books by Browne, Ekman, and Pommaux, see Beckett, “Paintings, Parody, and Pastiche in Picture Books.”

2 For a more detailed study of Galloway’s and Julien’s retellings, see Beckett, “Retelling Little Red Riding Hood in Contemporary Canadian Children’s Literature.”


Is a professor in the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures at Brock University (Canada). She is a member of the Royal Society of Canada and she was president of the International Research Society for Children’s Literature from 1999-2003. She is the author of several books, including De grands romanciers écrivent pour les enfants and Recycling Red Riding Hood. A companion volume to the latter, Crosswriting Red Riding Hood, is forthcoming. She has also edited several other books on children’s literature and Francophone literature.

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2007

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