With Love, Little Red Hen, by Alma Flor Ada

With Love, Little Red Hen, by Alma Flor Ada children's book cover

She’s teamed up with the illustrator of from the “Albert” series of books – but Alma Flor Ada has a secret. As a child, Ada “had many imaginary conversations with storybook characters,” according to her book’s jacket. “Many years later, upon finding her grandfather’s letters to her grandmother, she discovered that correspondence can tell a story.” Ada eventually wrote two children’s books as a series of letters – “Dear Peter Rabbit” and “Yours Truly, Goldilocks.” But in 2001 she turned her attention to another fairy tale character for a third book – called With Love, Little Red Hen.

“I must confess…that I’m a little bit disappointed by our neighbors, Mr. Dog, Mr. Goose, and Mr. Cat,” the hen announces on the first page. She’s writing a letter to her cousin Hetty, complaining that each neighbor refused to help her plow her back yard to grow corn. (“Not I!”  they all answered…) And a second letter documents the hen’s hard labor – a description written by Little Red Riding Hood to her dear friend, Goldilocks!

Honestly, all the letters make the story hard to follow. The next page is a letter back from the cousin of the little red hen. But then it’s  Little Red Riding Hood, writing back to her friend Goldilocks. (“How do you always manage to see such unusual things?”) And the letters are surprisingly long for the text of a children’s book.  Each letter rambles on for several paragraphs – supplying yet another perspective.

Turn the page, and it’s a ferocious cat – named Fer O’Cious – bragging to his friend (a wolf) about plans to eat the hen.  But this tips off the wolf, who goes after the hen himself. And then the hen – in a letter – describes the way she slipped out of the wolf’s burlap bag. On the plus side, there’s lots of animals in this book.  But I’ve heard that children get upset when their fairy tales are rewritten. I can imagine them squirming in bed, and squealing “That’s not what happened!”

The illustrations are by Leslie Tryon, and my favorite is the inside front cover. She’s drawn 40 yellow chicks – representing the children being taken care of by the little red hen. Unfortunately, the drawings in the book aren’t as simple. All the liney-details make the drawings feel complicated – while they’re still surprisingly flat. I think simpler pictures could’ve injected more humor into the story. And it needs humor, because instead the letter format leaves the book bogged down with a deadpan delivery.

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