Artell, M., & Harris, J. (2001). Petite Rouge: a Cajun Red Riding Hood. New York: Puffin Books.
Age: 5 and Up
Genre: Traditional Literature/Retold Tale
This story is a version of the classic folktale, Little Red Riding Hood, that features elements of the Cajun culture. The setting is in a Louisiana swamp instead of the woods, the diction used is Cajun, the protagonist is a little white duck (not a little girl) who is taking gumbo and etouffee to her sick granny instead of bread and the antagonist is an alligator instead of a wolf. In addition, there is a pleasant surprise ending that is very appropriate even for young children.
The original folktale Little Red Riding Hood has many origins. In checking, some resources said that it came from Europe during the middle ages and others say it originated in Asia. This version of the folktale is a retold tale, that was written with the Cajun culture in mind, in which the book could also be categorized in the multicultural genre. The Cajuns are a group of people (called French Acadians) that lived in the French Canada and then resettled in Louisiana after being required to pledge allegiance to the king of England while living in Canada. The retold version is written in a style, using Cajun terms and dialect, that provides humor for the reader. The humor mostly comes from the diction used, an example would be “I gonna count tree… and if you still dere, dis pole gonna hit you where you part you hair”. As well, the author stated that he dedicated this book in honor of the Cajun culture. Besides being a retold tale it is also a beast tale, which is a type of folktale, the animals talk such as the duck playing Petite Rouge and the alligator called Ol' Claude. Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood is an effective selection for story telling activities since it has few characters. Specifically, besides the duck and the alligator, there is also a cat, grandmother and mother encompassed in the story. In addition, the story is a quick read providing a clear conflict, constant action and quick conclusion that brings all parts of the story together, such as using the food that Petite Rouge’s mother sent with her to defeat the alligator at the end of the story.
The characters are flat or two-dimensional characters, especially if the reader is familiar with the original story, the reader would know that Petite Rouge is good and the alligator is evil. If the reader does not have prior knowledge of this story then these classifications could be made in the beginning of the story when Petite Rouge’s mother sends her to comfort her sick grandmother and tells her not to stop. The alligator would then easily be seen as the evil character when he stops Petite Rouge and asks her to give him the food intended for her sick grandmother. Even though these characters are flat and underdeveloped, they move the plot forward through their dialogue, for example when Petite Rouge refuses to give the alligator the food so that she can give it to her grandmother. The literary style provides a standard beginning in different words. Instead of saying “once upon a time” the author used the Cajun diction, “Back in de swamp where dat Spanish moss grow, I heard me a story happened long time ago”. Moreover, the ending is standard by giving and telling what was learned by the characters from the tale. Additionally, the ending was happy as with most traditional literature. Yet, it did differ from the original folktale, which I thought was interesting since it made this tale appropriate to read to young children as opposed to the violent ending included in the original tale. I feel that the author did this intentionally since in present times many people are concerned that some fairy tales have gruesome endings that could be harmful to young children or he may have wanted to continue the humor and light undertones that the story already possessed. The alligator is not cut into pieces, nor does he die in any way. Instead, the author used a Cajun inspired weapon for Petite Rouge to defeat the evil alligator. Hence, my BIG question is how did Petite Rouge and her grandmother know that the alligator would not come back since he was not killed?
This book also fits the requirements of a picture book. I believe that it bridges the categories of traditional literature and picture book because unlike traditional literature where the setting is not important, it is integral to this story. It is integral since the Cajun culture dominated the book through characters, food and language. The reader needed to be clear that the setting was a swamp in Louisiana. In fact, in researching this story further I located Jim Harris, the illustrator’s web page where he discussed how he travelled to Louisiana to accurately depict traits of a Louisiana swamp, alligators and even the houses. This information can be found at http://www.jimharrisillustrator.com/ChildrensBooks/Books/PetiteRouge.html . Furthermore, the illustrator chose to utilize a cartoon artistic style to portray the setting and characters. I feel that he made this artistic style choice to complement the hilarity of the text. This effect is carried through the illustrations using the element of composition. As an example, on the book cover the alligator is seen as very large in comparison with the duck and he has a deceitful expression (half smile, chewing in a piece of grass). The alligator is tipping the boat which is seen as intimidating to the duck and cat who are perched at the top of the boat, far away from the alligator. This illustration describes alligator as devious, yet funny and a threat to Petite Rouge. I also feel that the illustrator carefully chose the colors he used. He selected pastel colors in the background and bright colors when drawing the characters to draw attention to the characters and their actions. I feel this way because the action in this story is non-stop, the illustrator needed to emphasize the characters to enhance the action that was happening in the story. For instance, when Petite Rouge promises to hit the alligator (Ol’Claude) the props in the picture such as the boat and stick are drawn in vivid colors while the background colors are neutral. This design emphasizes the action.
I would recommend this book to teach the element of plot or since it is told in a diction not often heard in this area, to teach the comprehension strategy of questioning. I recently used this book in a lesson and found the students to be totally engaged throughout the story because of the characters and their dialogue. Hence, the effectiveness of using this book during instruction comes from its ability to fully engage students. In addition, I believe that the real-life connection for my students and I would be fear, in having to overcome a vicious animal. Or the common occurrence of visiting a sick relative. As an extension of this connection, I would incorporate our weekly comprehension strategy of text-to-self by having the students create using Microsoft Word, PowerPoint or Publisher a Venn Diagram comparing them to Petite Rouge. Younger students could complete this activity as a whole group, while older students could complete it with a partner or independently. An interactive Venn Diagram can also be found at http://www.readwritethink.org/files/resources/interactives/venn/. I also included additional resources to use with this story below.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p7uZDNxjRc0 – Part 1 of 5 clips of Mike Artell reading this story.
http://www.tips-for-teachers.com/questioning_mini_lessons.htm - Third Grade Lesson Plans utilizing this story.