The illustrations of award-winning artist Roberto Innocenti offer a modern take on the centuries-old tale of an innocent girl in a red riding hood who meets a wicked wolf in the dark woods.
Little Red travels a 'hood of a different color in this gritty, urbanized adaptation of the classic folk tale. The story begins in a crumbling housing project (the text, which hews more closely to the original tale's language, calls it a forest), where Sophia's mother asks her to go check in on her Nana. Sophia loads her backpack, dons her red coat, and walks through the city toward "The Wood," a bloated, jangling shopping complex, heading for Nana's trailer. Along the way she meets with "jackal" hooligans and a motorcycle-riding "wolf"; we last see Sophia at the door of Nana's trailer, in which we know the wolf waits. There appear to be two endings to this story: one in which the girl's fate ends in tragedy, the other in which the police arrive and "the wolf is snared, a family spared." Either way, Innocenti sets a menacing scene through his terse narrative and dark illustrations. The crowded, large-trim preads, with their detailed detritus of urban blight, establish a discomfiting tension between the garish, saturated colors of the commercial noise and the drab decay of the asphalt jungle, asking readers to consider the price of commerce and the impact of corporate greed on our cultural integrity and to look past these outward signs of decay to see the humanity in a seemingly depraved landscape.
–Thom Barthelmess, The Horn Book (Starred Review), January 2013
A modern, urban, dream-and-nightmare scenario for Red Riding Hood, with a television-show ending. The story is told by a tiny woman knitting in a pool of light, surrounded by children, possibly in a classroom or play group. Sophia lives with her mother and sister in a high-rise apartment, and her mother sends her off with honey and biscuits in her backpack for her grandmother on the other edge of the forest–the "forest" being a gritty urban environment with echoes of the seedier ends of London or New York. Innocenti creates a darkly fabulous urban landscape full of traffic, litter, graffiti and raucous advertisements in many languages. When Sophia reaches The Wood, a Times Square-like habitat where "[a]lmost anything you want can be had," she finds her favorite shop, full of action figures and heroines, but loses her way. A motorcycle gang surrounds her, but she is rescued by a dark figure who takes her most of the way to her grandmother's and then–. The final scene finds Nana's trailer surrounded by police cars and reporters, and the scarf the teller has been knitting is much, much longer. Older children, and perhaps even teens, might find this tale much to their liking; some, however, might find its darkness a little too unmitigated, despite the closing sign that says "Happy End."
–Vicky Smith, Kirkus , November 2012
Hans Christian Andersen Medalist Innocenti (The House) reworks Little Red Riding Hood in a story narrated, improbably, by a doll-sized figure of a grandmother surrounded by a group of children. "Toys can be fun," the automaton tells them as she knits. "But a good story is magic." In a series of spreads that cross the busyness of Where's Waldo? with the bleak commercial dystopia of Blade Runner, Sophia, clad in a red cloak, crosses trash- and graffiti-strewn streets on her way to her Nana's, dwarfed by buildings and jostled by crowds. Her predator isn't a wolf but a man with a brush cut and a black coat. Frisch (The Lonely Pine) describes him with a sneer: "A smiling hunter. What big teeth he has. Dark and strong and perfect in his timing." The traditional tale has several endings, and Frisch offers alternatives as well–first a tragedy ("It is almost morning when a mother's phone rings"), then a triumph, as police officers capture the man in the black coat. Not a bedtime story, but an opening to hard questions about violence and safety–and about storytelling, too.
–Publishers Weekly (Starred Review), October 2012
Employing the hyperrealistic style used in his controversial Holocaust picture book, Rose Blanche, Innocenti here conjures a menacing forest for Little Red Riding Hood. The path in this modern-day, urban setting is surrounded with litter, graffiti, homeless people, traffic jams, fast food, and a crime scene. Sophia's journey is narrated by a knitting granny who appears before the title page amid a group of children. Frisch's ominous text, placed within garish red or gray blocks, sets the tone: "Stories are like the skies. They can change, bring surprises, catch you without a coat. Look up all you want, but you never really know what's coming." The heart of the forest is a shopping mall. Catatonic shoppers are visually assaulted with signs of garters and guns, bingo and bling; stained-glass windows feature Mickey Mouse and seductively posed women. The protagonist halts before a toy-filled "window of wonders" and then, lost, falters in a dark alley filled with punks. In a disturbing sequence, she is "rescued" by "a smiling hunter" (a biker, dressed in black, who is later revealed to be the wolf). The story projects a sense of foreboding and terror, and the first of two endings moves the children in the framing story to tears; a "happy" version is unconvincingly appended. By removing the filter of folklore and pulling the archetypal dangers into the present without a sense of safety anywhere, author and illustrator have created a profoundly unsettling narrative that may have some appeal to urban teens.
–Wendy Lukehart, School Library Journal , March 2013