Vivian Vande Velde Main Page
Cloaked in Red
Ages: 12 and up
Publisher: Marshall Cavendish
Book Description:

Presents eight twists on the traditional tale of Little Red Riding Hood, exploring such issues as why most characters seem dim-witted and what, exactly, is the theme.

This book is currently a finalist for:

  • The Crystal Kite Award (Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators--New York division)
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Where do you GET those ideas?
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Where do you GET those ideas?

One answer to this can be found in the excerpt which follows, which explains why I consider "Little Red Riding Hood" to be a monumentally mixed-up fairy tale.

Now, admittedly, I find quite a few fairy tales mixed up, which was why I wrote Tales from the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird, which includes a Little Red story, "The Granddaughter,"  where Granny and the wolf are best of friends.  I had so much fun with that, I wrote another Little Red story, exploring another of the questions the story brings up for me.  But that second story sat around for years, because I didn't know what to do with it.

In the meantime, I wrote a whole series of Rumpelstiltkin stories ("Rumpelstiltskin" is my candidate for the most mixed-up fairy tale, ever) and put them together in The Rumpelstiltskin Problem.

So I started thinking, 'I already have 2 Little Red stories.  That's a significant chunk of a book done already.  All I need to do is write six more stories, and I'll have a book, with a quarter of the work done already.'  So that's what I did.


As it turned out, my editor, Margery Cuyler, said yes to the 6 new stories, but no to the two that were already written.  So I ended up writing 8 original stories for Cloaked in Red after all.

So much for getting off easy!



Everyone knows the story of Little Red Riding Hood, the girl with the unfortunate name and the inability to tell the difference between her grandmother and a member of a different species.

The question is: Why do we all know it?

If you look at "Little Red Riding Hood," it's a perfect example of the exact opposite of a good story.

There are different versions, but they all start with a mother who sends her daughter into the woods, where there is not only a wolf, but a talking, cross-dressing wolf. We are never told Little Red Riding Hood's age, but her actions clearly show that she is much too young, or too dimwitted, to be allowed out of the house alone.

But apparently Little Red's mom hasn't noticed this.

When I was a little girl, my mother was nervous about my crossing the street without adult supervision. But fairy-tale characters do not make good role models. Goldilocks' parents not only let let her play in the bear-infested woods, they neglect to give her that most basic advice: "Don't break into strangers' homes."

There are other examples of irresponsible adults in fairy tales. The miller in "Rumpelstiltskin" hands his daughter over to a king whose royal motto is "Spin straw into gold or die." And Rapunzel's mom and dad trade her to a witch for a garden salad.

We won't even get into the issue of stepmothers.

So, Mother tells Little Red not to tarry or to talk to strangers. (Not talking: That'll be a big help against wolves.) Why can't Mother deliver the basket of food to Granny herself rather than send a child through dangerous woods into a house with a possibly contagious disease? Maybe Mother is trying to get rid of her daughter. Maybe this is the same mother who tried to lose Hansel and Gretel in the woods. Little Red Riding Hood's peculiar name might make more sense in this light. I can just picture the father--not that he ever makes an appearance in this story--putting his foot down, saying, "Geez Louise! You name our first kid Hansel. Your name our second kid Gretel. I'm not letting you name any more kids. We'll just call our youngest daughter after an article of clothing."

How would you feel if your parents called you "Little Blue-Plaid Catholic School Uniform" or "Little Green Sweatshirt with the Hole at the Elbow"?

And what happened later in life, when Little Red Riding Hood was no longer little? Did she shift to "Medium-Sized Blue-Beaded Sweater"? Did she eventually become "Size-Large, and Yes-That-DOES-Make-Your-Butt-Look-Enormous Jeans"?

Does Little Red resent her name? We don't know enough about her to say.

We don't know enough about the wolf, once he comes along, to know why he acts the way he acts. If the wolf were hungry, you'd expect him to just go ahead and eat the girl. But maybe he figures it's rude to eat someone to whom he hasn't been introduced, so when he sees Little Red Riding Hood in the woods picking flowers, he starts asking her questions.

Apparently Little Red is quite a conversationalist, because the next thing you know, the wolf has learned everything there is to know about the child, including directions to her granny's house. Still, Little Red is not suspicious when the wolf tells her, "You go this way, and I'll go that, and we'll see who gets there first."

See what I mean about young or dimwitted?

So Little Red takes the long way, and the wolf takes the shortcut, running ahead to Granny's.

Here's where the different versions come in.

In some tellings, the wolf locks Granny in the closet--not behavior you're ever likely to see on a National Geographic special.

In other accounts, the wolf eats the grandmother, in which case you'd expect Little Red, on her arrival, to notice subtle clues--maybe bits of shredded clothing or gnawed-on bones, and blood splatters. But maybe Granny is not a careful housekeeper, and a certain amount of mess is normal for her house.

And sometimes the wolf swallows Granny whole, in which case the wolf must be about as big as a whale, leaving us to wonder why Little Red, who seems prone to making personal remarks, doesn't mention this.

In any case, then the wolf gets into Granny's bed--which sounds kinky to me regardless of what he's done with her previously.

Along comes Little Red.

I don't like to criticize anyone's family, but I'm guessing these people are not what you'd call close. Little Red doesn't realize a wolf has substituted himself for her grandmother. I only met my grandmother three times in my entire life, but I like to think I would have noticed if someone claiming to be my grandmother had fur, fangs, and a tail.

But Little Red, instead of becoming suspicious, becomes rude.

"My," she says--as far as she knows--to her grandmother, "what big arms you have."

Big she notices. Apparently hairy and clawed escape her.

The wolf answers, "The better to hug you with, my dear."

Aw, how sweet. You'd think that would warm Little Red's heart. But no.

"My," she goes on, "what big eyes you have."

"The better to see you with, my dear," the wolf answers.

(Are you wondering what he's waiting for? I'm wondering what he's waiting for.)

"My," Little Red Riding Hood says, "what great big teeth you have."

What would he have done if Little Red Riding Hood had commented on his whiskers or his snout, or if she had simply handed over the basket of goodies? Just how long would he have kept up the impersonation?

But either the wolf's just a big joker who has been patiently waiting for the perfect cue to what he knows is a killer punch line, or he's sensitive about his dental appearance. At this point he answers, "The better to eat you with," then leaps out of bed and lunges at Little Red Riding Hood.

The story doesn't specify whether the child catches on that she has been chatting all this while with a wolf, or if she simply thinks her grandmother is extremely cranky. But at least Little Red finally realize something is wrong--and for that we can only be grateful.

What happens next depends once again on which version you're reading.

Shortest: The wolf eats Little Red. The end.

More often, Little Red screams and a friendly woodcutter happens by. Well, friendly to Little Red, not to the wolf.

The woodcutter either scares the wolf off or escalates from woodcutter into wolfcutter: He cuts the wolf open and out pops Granny. (Presumably she's all slimy with wolf's blood and digestive juices, which you'd think would emotionally traumatize any normal little girl. Then again, there's never any strong evidence Little Red is normal. On the other hand, maybe the reason there's never any mention of Little Red in therapy is because there aren't very many support groups for those who have witnessed family members rescued from the inside of carnivores.)

In the less messy versions, the woodcutter kills the wolf, and afterwards he lets Granny out of the closet. Of course, this leaves us with the question: If Granny were alive and well in the closet, why didn't she say anything when her granddaughter was struggling with the difference between a beast of the forest and a family member? You know, something to end Little Red's confusion. Perhaps something like: "RUN, YOU LITTLE DIPSTICK, BEFORE HE EATS YOU!"

In the oldest written telling of the story, not to mention the most bizarre, the wolf swallows both Granny and Little Red whole, then decides to take an after-dinner nap. The woodcutter comes into Granny's cottage (we can only guess at the relationship that makes him feel at home doing this), and he sees the wolf's bulging stomach (earning him the "Most Observant Character in This Story" Award). He slices open the wolf, releasing the grateful, if icky, girl and grandmother. Apparently, the woodcutter is a skilled surgeon, because this procedure not only doesn't kill the wolf; it also doesn't wake him up. Then, in a scene that sounds right out of one of those sadistic slasher movies, the woodcutter, Granny, and Little Red fill the wolf's stomach with stones, and then they sew him up. Apparently these three are too kind-hearted to kill the wolf in his sleep. This way, once he wakes up and tries to jump out of bed, the weight of the stones in his tummy rips him apart.

OK, think about all this. What makes a story?

1. Memorable characters

We've got a mother, Little Red Riding Hood, a wolf, a grandmother, and a woodcutter. It's hard to call characters memorable when the only one who has a name is, in fact, named after apparel that nobody wears any more.

2. Vivid setting

The woods. OK, are we talking Amazon rain forest here or a couple of trees in someone's backyard? It's sloppy storytelling if we aren't given enough information to picture where our memorable characters are.

3. Exciting plot

Try submitting a story to your creative writing teacher in which the main character bumbles cluelessly throughout the story, then gets rescued by another character who was never even mentioned before. Go ahead and keep your fingers crossed for a passing grade.

4. Important themes--something about the subject to captivate our imaginations and connect those who read the story.

It's hard to tell what is the theme of "Little Red Riding Hood." Don't go into the woods? Don't talk to animals who are capable of talking back? If you're going to make fun of your grandmother's appearance, make sure it truly is your grandmother and not a wolf who likes to dress in old- ladies' clothes?

However you look at it, "Little Red Riding Hood" is a strange and disturbing story that should probably not be shared with children.

That is why I've gone ahead and written eight new versions of it.

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"a.k.a. Hood," the story that didn't make it into Cloaked in Red, was available through iPulp.


But unfortunately iPulp ("Where the short story lives") no longer exists.


with the cast of Drama Kids International of Rochester, at a rehearsal for "Granny and the Wolf" at the Penfield, NY library.


With a whole new cast, another DKI production, this one presented at St. John Fisher. 



VVV as Little Red--luckily, no wolf in sight


Lucy the cat as perhaps-not-the-happiest Little Red Riding Hood


Cloaked in Red charm bracelet made by my very clever daughter. Visit her Sparkly Something website.