I love retellings of traditional stories because I can often recognize familiar characters and storylines, but sometimes these stereotypes from our childhood are drastically turned on their heads. This is the case in Red: The (Fairly) True Tale of Red Riding Hood, by Liesl Shurtliff (Yearling, 2017). While we think we know the story of a young girl traipsing innocently through the woods, a big bad wolf, a sick granny, and a helpful huntsman, this story doesn’t quite treat the setting and the characters how one might expect.
Young Red shows her restraint as she (supposedly) refuses to use her magic. She’s afraid she’ll hurt someone when she makes a magical mistake. Nevertheless, when she finds that her magical grandmother is ill, she decided she must use one magical recipe to help her grandmother recover. She sets off on an adventure to find the magical ingredients she needs. If it were me, I’d stick close to my sick grandmother and nurture her, but magical girls aren’t always logical, so off Red goes.
It’s clear to me, as the reader, that Red knows much more about magic than she lets on, and while she insists she does not “do” magic, as the reader, I found myself wondering if she realizes the powers that seem to be helping her and rescuing her throughout the book. It’s a magic world!
With her magical abilities, Red is not afraid of anything in The Woods, not even the wolf. The Woods are her friends, and her ability to understand the animals lets her befriend the wolf, who is afraid of a monster. Red also meets a bouncy girl named “Goldie”, which is just the first of many overlapping fairy tale characters they will meet (since she is very obviously Goldilocks).
When she meets a dwarf who must grant her a wish, Red is easily convinced that the magical potion won’t be enough to cure her grandmother: she needs to find a way to help her grandmother live forever. Her wish becomes a sinister one as she learns what this truly means. Thankfully, by working together with the wolf, the two girls can remember what truly matters, and Red gains confidence in her ability to learn from mistakes and face her fears. She embraces her magic.
Red and Goldie meet many other characters from fairy tales, including the Beast in an enchanted castle, and any child that loves such a conglomeration of fairy tale characters will enjoy this particular middle-grade retelling.
For anyone who enjoys this retelling, Shurtliff has also written a number of others in this same world: