I love it when I come across a new book that represents an original take on an old story. Some, in my opinion, are harder to redo than others. For me, one of the toughest is the Little Red Hen. In part, this is because I so loathe how some versions of the original end. I hate it when no one helps the hen and she’s so sweet that she shares with everyone anyway.
Yeah, yeah. I know. That’s the nicer version. Ugh. Can I just say that? Ugh!
The Little Red Fort by Brenda Maier, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez is a completely new take on this story. And Maier takes “go big or go home” seriously. This is a completely different story than the one we all know.
There is no hen. In fact there are no anthropomorphic animals. The POV character is a little girl named Ruby. The antagonists are her three brothers. Mom, Dad and Grandma each come into the story although they aren’t in the text. They were added by Sanchez.
In the original, the hen already knows how to grow the garden. She just wants help. In this version, Ruby finds some boards. She knows she wants to build something but first has to learn to use the tools. Only then does she start to develop a plan.
The original has a chorus with the hen asking for help and the other animals saying no. In this version, whenever Ruby asks for help, the brothers tell her no but they each have their own way of saying no. “‘No way,” said Jose. I’m too busy.” Maeir uses the brothers’ responses to create a chorus that young readers can look forward to throughout the story. It is also a bit of humor for older readers and adult readers who are going to laugh when they read “no way (said) Jose.”
In spite of the differences, the broad strokes are the same and this is clearly the Little Red Hen.
- The title mirrors the title of the original.
- Your main character is trying to accomplish something.
- A trio of antagonists refuse to help.
- The call and response pattern (will you help/no I won’t) remains the same.
Why not take the time to have a bit of fun with your own favorite tale? Change a character and/or the setting to give it a Halloween twist. Try different combinations to see how it impacts the story and try to work in the same broad patterns as the original. I’ve never sold one of these stories, but they are something I like to play with.