Two Little Red Ridings

Photo courtesy of VanDammeMaarten.be (flickr.com)

Two Little Red Ridings

This lesson will introduce students to two very different retellings of the classic fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood,” one by YARN discovery Hanna Howard and the other by award-winning novelist Cecil Castellucci, author of “Boy Proof,” “Beige,” and many other books for young adults.

Students will practice their comparison and contrast skills on several levels: comparing and contrasting the two retellings with each other, and the original, as well as comparing and contrasting the style and tone of Ms. Howard’s and Ms. Castellucci’s stories.  They will reflect on the persistence of fairy tales in today’s culture and literature.  Then, they will have an opportunity to write an updated fairy tale of their own, which they might decide to submit to YARN!

What you’ll need:

Preparation & Homework:

  • Assign the three  “Little Reds” as homework, and ask students to also peruse the “Learn About Yarn” pages.  If not all your students own computers on which to read, you might schedule some library or computer lab time for in-class reading.  Preview that you will be discussing the similarities and differences between the tales in class.
  • Encourage students to take notes and jot down questions on paper as they read, especially jotting down specific lines that move them and relate to those similarities and differences.

In Class:

  1. After setting up the computer and screen, go to www.yareview.net and introduce YARN to the class, especially the “About YARN” page.
  2. Start with “Little Red Cap,” and ask a student to summarize the original.  You might warm up the class by asking if this is the version of “Little Red Riding Hood” that they are familiar with.  If you also assigned the Charles Perrault version, you might ask for a brief comparison between those two (the main difference being the presence of the huntsman, and the survival of Red and her grandmother).
  3. Open two more tabs or windows in your computer’s browser, and go to the two YARN versions of the story.  Depending on how advanced your students are, you might start discussing all three versions at once, or you might start with just “To Grandmother’s House” and the original, then add  “Ruby Red” after a few minutes of discussion.  Whichever method you choose, the goal here is to get students discussing the similarities and differences between the three versions, with the ultimate goal of focusing in on the two YARN retellings.  To help keep track of their many answers, it would help to put students’ answers on your chalkboard, and ask them to copy those into their notebooks.  And, we always recommend asking students to support their answers with quotes from the texts.
        • Start with the bigger questions:  In terms of events and characters, how are the versions the same?  How are they different?  (What does the huntsman do in each version?  The wolf?  The grandmother?)
        • Then move to the effects of those plot and character choices.  What is the effect of these differences on the stories?  For instance, ask students to explain the way Marie’s friendship with Peter the Huntsman is similar and different to that of Ruby and Peter, and what those similarities and differences make them feel about the characters and what happens to them.
        • You might then move to more nitty gritty questions, like:  What do students think about the wolf being a force of good in “Ruby Red,” contrary to the original?  What do they think about the vaguely alien nature of the gray man in “Grandmother’s House”?
        • Despite all the differences in plot and character, what are the thematic similarities between Ms. Castellucci’s story, and Ms. Howard’s?  What about their “morals”–are they similar, or do these modern fairy tales not have morals like the original?  Why or why not?
  1. If you have time, or you want to do a second in-class discussion, you might continue with an even more nuanced discussion of the styles of the two versions.  For instance, “Grandmother’s House” is written in the third person, and “Ruby” is written in the first person.  What is the effect of each choice on the story?  How does the intimacy of the first person, and/or the relative distance of the third person, drive each narrative, and influence how we feel about the characters?  What other differences–and similarities–do students note between the styles of the two retellings?  Is one “darker” than the other–how, and why?  Is one more “modern” than the other–how, and why?  Is one written more like a fairy tale–how and why? (These are just suggestions to get you started; for this part of the discussion, ask your students to stay focused on the sentences, and how they convey meaning.)
  2. As a closer, spend a few minutes asking students what they think of projects like Ms. Castellucci’s and Ms. Howard’s.  Why would an adult, modern writer want to revisit the old-fashioned fairy tales of their youth?  What’s in it for the writers?  For readers?  Can students think of other examples of retellings like this from books and movies out today?

Assignments:

There are a few possible writing assignments that could come out of the discussions above, the second of which could be submitted to YARN for possible publication. (We don’t recommend sending the essays that might result from the first prompt, because they would likely be more academic in tone and reflection, while the second two are more creative.) Please encourage students to revise and improve their writing further, even after their pieces have been graded, before submitting work for publication, and ask them to consult the Submission Guidelines before submitting to us!

  • Prompt 1:  Write a short essay reflecting on the way a fairy tale classic can be retold and updated, using the texts above to support their claims.
  • Prompt 2:  Write a short short story in which you retell a classic fairy tale.

This writing portion of the lesson could be made into a take-home assignment, due several days after the in-class lesson (for classes of more advanced writers), OR it could be broken down into a longer writing lesson involving in-class and at-home brainstorming, and/or journaling, drafting, and revising (for an example of how this might break down, see the lesson on inference).

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