Little Red Ruthie – By Gloria Koster Illustrations by Sue Eastland. Scholastic. 2017
A Chanukah story and a fairy tale? Sign me up!
I picked this up at they synagogue I teach at when they were doing a book fair to support the preschool (along with several other non-Jewish fairytale adaptations for later…)
As a teaching book about Chanukah, there’s not a lot to recommend it. The Chanukah story of the Maccabees is only alluded to. The oil miracle gets a page or so of text. The focus here is on latkes. And who doesn’t like latkes? It’s definitely a fun read among the many available Chanukah books even if it isn’t one I would pull to teach.
As a Little Red Riding Hood story, I really enjoyed it. I’ve definitely seen versions of LRRH that follow a somewhat similar plot variation before, but this one works really well, particularly as a Chanukah story.
Little Red Ruthie is on her way to Bubbe’s house when she encounters the wolf. He beats her to grandmother’s house and discovers that Bubbe is out. There’s a great moment where he enjoys dressing up in her clothes.
As with many a Modern Red, Ruthie has to outsmart him. She treats the wolf as a guest and offers to make him latkes. Bubbe had conveniently left the ingredients out and Ruthie is very proud to remember the recipe. I loved this little detail – it’s great to encourage the passing down of traditional family recipes in a day when most of us just ask the internet how to make something. There’s a recipe in the back for whoever needs one!
The wolf of course ends up in a food coma, just as anyone does who eats too many latkes. Needing fresh air (and no more latkes) he runs off when Bubbe arrives.
The illustrations here are fun, especially the early pages, for example the wolf’s admiring of himself. Unfortunately once it gets into the latke making and eating, they aren’t quite as exciting, though perfectly serviceable. Some of this may be because I was looking at a paperback version of the book. Gloss would have helped the digital images. The palette overall involves a lot of red. Ruthie, rather than a hood, wears a red puffy jacket and a hat. It’s a cute and relatable character design.
There was, however, one element in the setting that really bothered me. There is a Chanukiah on the hutch (What Grandma doesn’t have a hutch?) BUT there is an incredibly awkward Magen David (Star of David) with a bright red, awful, Christmas like ribbon attached hanging by the door. Who hangs a weird looking Chanukah ornament at all? And why by the door? Yes, the overall book palette is based on red, but who decorates for Chanukah that way? Commercially available Chanukah products have clearly decided that Chanukah = Jewish holiday = Blue with gold, silver and/or white. (They’ve also pushed to spellings of Chanukah I dislike.) I found it a weirdly distracting detail, particularly since the way the doorway is drawn, it’s basically all white space with this strangely sized star.
This is somewhat nitpicking. There are certainly plenty of families today who do mix Chanukah and Christmas in their homes and so it may not be as jarring to them.
So leaving aside Jewish educator criticisms, as a fairy tale adaptation I was amused. I don’t know many holiday adapted fairy tale books, so I was pleased for its seasonal plot bent. This one can easily have traction with non-Jews as well. It’s a good book for looking at Jewish culture with a 5-8 year old. I liked the characterization and outcome for the wolf, and if Bubbe and Ruthie are a bit bland, the latkes make up for it.
Spectacle 4/5 (in this case the illustrations as a whole)
Cover art: This cover is great. It’s clear what the story is and the style of illustration. It’s engaging and active. Seriously, YA and Middle Grade publishers go look at some picture books for rethinking your covers. Of course the pictures are one of the most important elements for this type of book, but it really is just lovely to read a book where the cover actually correctly matches what you get.