“Little Red Riding Hood” Engraving (left) by Gustave DoreWe’ve talked here recently about ‘pushing the darks’, referring to dark values — those ‘lower depths’ of the gray scale so important in graphic composition and painting.

Essential in storytelling, too, right? I thought the Disney movie version of Into the Woods did a good job delivering Stephen Sondheim‘s wise lyrics, fresh music and humanist take on the fairy tales. No, I don’t think it went ‘too dark’ in the final third. We know the tales are dark, to begin with. Whatever the movie did or failed to do with the Johnny Depp wolf in the Little Red Riding Hood segment, its treatment could have gone even darker and still worked.

And Little Red remains the darkest and scariest and therefore the most enduring of all the fairy tales. Below is a particularly Teutonic telling by animator-art director Tomas Nilsson.

Who wrote Little Red Riding Hood, anyway?  For centuries it has echoed around the world, in Russia (Peter and the Wolf, where the protagonist is a boy instead of a girl), Italy and Central Asia (where the “fake grandmother” idea headlines.) In the Middle East, Jonah waits for rescue in the belly of a whale instead of a wolf. There have been additional sightings in southeast Asia, Japan, Africa and around the Mediterranean.

Red, Grandma, and Wolf have lived in French folklore since, well, the Dark Ages, according to Wikipedia. The first writer to bring the fable into actual print was Charles Perrault, a man of letters in King Louis XIV’s court, who’s credited with establishing the literary genre of fairy tales. Little Red Riding Hood by Trina Schart HymanA century later Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published their Black Forest treatment. In 1943 Animator Tex Avery spun the Hollywood nightclub cartoon version.

Associations of girl and wolf still swirl through the cultures. The story’s been given so many meanings, interpretations, and treatments. The red hood (French edition) or red cap (German edition) means blood. Or else the dawn. The plot centers on rape or the consequences of misplaced trust. Or it’s about sexual awakening, female empowerment, or rebirth into adulthood. The wolf is a calculating seducer or a mysterious ‘animal groom’ archetype or a hungry werewolf!

What do you think? Is Little Red Riding Hood a cautionary tale for little girls and young women, a fable-as-puberty-rite, or a joyous celebration of restoration?

Nilsson’s animation above was the result of an art school assignment, to interpret a classic fairy tale. For an illustration prompt, can you imagine any better fodder for your portfolio? The genre is public domain, audience-tested and psychically charged. You might want to check out this fascinating investigation into Little Red’s anthropological provenance by Rachel Hartigan Shea for National Geographic Magazine. 


French oil painting, 1820, by Fleury François Richard

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Marks and Splashes course banner

Extended Sale for flu season! 20 percent off the Marks and Splashes course

For a few days the coupon code:  Flu-Season-Extension will get you 20 percent off the regular tuition for Mark Mitchell’s Make Your Marks and Splashes! online course on children’s book illustration. Enjoy lively lessons, video interviews with illustrators, a supportive student community, and three months of critiques of your work in  fun, constructive live sessions. Try your own Little Red Riding Hood or fairy tale, fable, or nursery rhyme of your choice, with your fresh imagery.

Learn more and register here — and don’t forget the new coupon code:  Flu-Season-Extension  to deduct your 20 percent.  * * * *

Painting watercolors of children: A workshop recording with Kathy Jurek

Click on the graphic to learn more about Kathy Jurek's workshop video!

 Click here — or on the above graphic to learn more about Kathy’s online video workshop.

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Austin SCBWI website header art by Marsha Riti

Austin SCBWI website header art by Marsha Riti

Ready for the Writer’s and Illustrator’s Working Conference?

Author Bethany Hegedus

Author Bethany Hegedus

Check out the short interviews with wonderful picture book authors Chris Barton (Shark vs. Train) and Bethany Hegedus (Grandfather Gandhi.)  They’re faculty from the Austin contingent of SCBWI who’ll join other children’s book industry professionals to answer your questions Austin, Texas Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator’s (SCBWI) annual conference coming in just a few weeks.

Registration is underway here for the March 7-8 2015 event that will feature, in addition to Bethany and Chris, Chronicle Books children’s division art director Kristine Brogno,  Beach Lane Books Publishing senior editor Aubrey Poole,  literary agents Jill Grinberg and Victoria Wells Arms and authors and author-llustrators Don Tate, Chris Barton, C.S. Jennings and Emma Virjan. Give yourself the gift of Awesome by partying with us down in Austin!

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Secrets of writing ‘Chapter Books’ direct from authors and editors in the genre

The Chapter Book Alchemists

It’s called The Chapter Book Alchemist and it’s about the book genre so popular with early readers age 6 to 9. Not only are Chapter Books a favorite traditional category  in children’s publishing, they can be one of the most wildly creative for author-illustrators, incorporating all kinds of design and imagery possibilities, including lots of black and white illustration.

Chapter Book Alchemist e-course

You’ll meet and learn from award-winning children’s book author (and former New York City comedian) Hillary Homzie, and an advisory pro team of top practioners and editors, along with your moderator-mentors, author-illustrator Mira Reisberg and reading specialist Mandy Yates. Get the scoop and see the introductory video with Hillary Homzie here

The first class was Monday night, Jan. 12 and it runs for five bustling, people and insider info-packed weeks. Registration has begun, they’ll probably still let you in and you can read more about it and get in touch with Hillary and Mira here.

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Get on board for Zero and One!

Zero and One KicksCheck out the new publisher’s Kickstarter campaign by my friends, author-inventor Jeff Byington and folk artist, graphic designer and illustrator Kim Frey. Jeff and Kim are pathfinding members of the Marks and Splashes Online Learning Community. 

Their Kickstarter is for upgraded paperback and eBook versions of their picture book for all ages, Zero and One, as well as a hardback and coloring book versions, t-shirt, character prints and presentations. You can learn more and support them here.