It is hard to find someone who has not heard of Little Red Riding Hood, a famous folktale around the world. An innocent little girl goes to visit her grandma, and despite warnings to not speak with strangers, she tells a wolf where she is headed. When she arrives to her grandma’s house, she finds that her grandma has been eaten by the wolf, who is now dressed up and disguised as her grandma. Though the endings vary around the world from silly to quite violent, the story we grew up hearing has been passed on for hundreds of generations. First, we discover the fascinating history of this class tale, that began in the 1st century. Then we used three contemporary versions of Little Red Riding Hood- set around the world in Ghana, China, and Cajun Louisiana- to compare and contrast the folktales, the characters, and other details.
Little Red Riding Hood Around the World Timeline:
Although it was originally assumed that Little Red Riding Hood’s roots went back to Asia and came to Europe via the Silk Road, this has been determined untrue. The oral version of “The Wolf and the Kids” actually originated in Europe and the Middle East and later spread to Asia (read Dr Tehrani’s scientific analysis here).
There is evidence that the story probably originated in the 1st Century in the Middle East. Oral versions of Little Red Riding Hood were also often told throughout Europe, especially in the French and Italian countrysides. Elements of Greek myths, Catholic saints, and Norse folktales appear in certain versions- Little Red Riding Hood is definitely inspired by many cultures! Three important version that were written down prevailed:
- Perrault writes Little Red Riding Hood (Le Petit Chaperon Rouge) in France in the late 1600s
- Huang Zhing writes The Tiger Grandmother in China in the late 1600s (oral variants were common also in Japan and Korea)
- Brother Grimm wrote their version of Little Red Riding Hood (Rotkäppchen) in Germany in the 1800s.
Little Red Riding Around the World Books for Kids
Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China, by Ed Young. It is a battle of the wits, between clever Little Red-Riding Hood (and her two sisters) and the sly wolf. This story is slightly different than the versions we most hear, but in some ways is similar to the original oral story from a thousand years ago. The moral of the story encourages children to communicate and cooperate with each other. Although no one is harmed by the wolf, at the end of the book the girls repeatedly raise the wolf in a basket and drop him to the ground from a tall tree to kill him. My animal-loving daughter was of course offended at the animal cruelty. Because of its stunning artwork, it earned the 1990 Caldecott Medal.
Pretty Salma: A Little Red Riding Hood Story from Africa, by Niki Daly. Set in urban Accra, Ghana, this story follows pretty Salma to the market. In this version, a sly dog tricks Salma, despite her grandmother’s warning to not speak with strangers. Fortunately she goes to get help and everyone learns a lesson at the end. There is no violence in the end, which makes it slightly different than the traditional Little Red Riding Hood Story. I love the cultural details in the illustrations and throughout the story! My kids really enjoyed this version.
Petit Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood, by Mike Artell. In this funny version, we see new characters in the familiar story. Set in the bayous of Louisiana, and told in thick Cajun dialect, a duck named Cajun Little Red sets off to bring some gumbo to her sick Grand-Mère. The wolf is replaced by Claude the gator and the end is the least grisly of the Red Riding Hood books. It took me a couple of times to practice the dialect with the rhythm, but it was a really fun story once we got into the verse. Check for surprises in the detailed illustrations!
Post-Reading Discussion Questions or Journal Prompts
When reading different versions of the same story, ask your kids to compare and contrast the stories. Encourage them to recall details about each story, and retell parts of the stories that were their favorites. Discuss the illustrations, the moral of the story, the settings and the characters: what makes fairy tales so special is their evolution within different cultures throughout time! People spread the stories orally, changing different aspects depending on their perspectives and values. As we compare literature, we incorporate global learning and teach our youngest students about the world!
Our Little Red Riding Hood Fairy Tale Unit is a ready-to-go activity packet full of everything you need to bring “around the world” children’s literature into your classroom. Based on the books listed above, this unit contains discussion questions, a comparison grid, a venn diagram, a plot activity, and writing prompts to engage students in these multicultural books. Go now! >
We love comparing and contrasting literature from different cultures. If you liked this activity, check out our Cinderella Around the World and our Gingerbread Men Around the World books and activities by clicking on the picture below!