Worth the Candle

Carmine: A Little More Red By Melissa Sweet Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780618997176
Published: Clarion Books - May 5th, 2008

It's been in the news that a social anthropologist has traced the origins of the Little Red Riding Hood story back 2,600 years. This makes the most famous Stranger Danger story much older and more universal than preciously thought  - and it was already thought to be plenty old and universal.

It's also been in the news that fairy-tale expert s immediately tried to debunk the social anthropologist's report. Some of them insist that Little Red Riding Hood - whatever commonalities it shares with that 2,600-year-old yarn - wasn't a fairy tale until Charles Perrault created it in the 17th century. The difference of opinion has a lot to do with oral-vs.-written tradition. Authorship, the latter camp insists, should have its privileges.

Authorship, we'd point out, has everything to do with one of the newest Little Red Riding Hood stories: Carmine, a picture book that manages to be an imaginative retelling, an artist's notebook, an abecedary, a work of homage to fairy tales, a testament to the joy of creativity, and a shoutout to excellent soup.

Carmine and her dog, Rufus, always visit her Granny when Gran makes alphabet soup. Indeed, delicious soup with pasta letters was key in Carmine's learning to how read. It seems, too, that the scenic route to Granny's was key to Carmine's development as a plein air painter. On a day when Gran has invited Carmine over for soup, the girl, who loves to dilly-dally, stops to paint a picture. Acting on her belief that "any painting can be improved by adding a little more red," she wanders away from the bike path toward some crimson and scarlet poppies.

Nobody appears to get hurt in Melissa Sweet's version of Little Red, although the wolf is wearing a bandage or two when he brings meaty soup bones home to his pups. But this nod to the squeamish doesn't harm the book's appeal in every other regard. The retelling highlights 26 toothsome vocabulary words - lurking, mimic, nincompoop, omen, pluck, for example, and each defined in context. The illustrations are crammed with sly jokes about other fairy tales and with sweet insights into an artist's process. And Carmine, although she is true to her artistic mission, does learn her lesson about dawdling. Even the soup recipe is included. Really, Carmine is so good you might think it was 2,600 years in the making.