One of the reasons why I am so enamored with children’s literature is that on occasion you find a book that is so riveting, highly imaginative, and intelligent enough to allow parallel universes (read: a variety of fairy stories and cautionary tales) to collide – that I just sigh and smile in wonderment. This book: Yours Truly, Goldilocks – is one of those stories. My former colleague who taught previously in ELL (English Language and Literature) at the NIE was the one who encouraged me to buy this book when we had one of our Book Sales over at campus. And boy, was she right. It really is something.
In this postmodern picturebook, The Three Little Pigs get to meet Goldilocks and Little Red Riding Hood (did you know that they happen to be very good friends? They’re like BFFs here, you know), Peter Rabbit, Baby Bear and yes The Big Bad Wolf – except that here we don’t just have One Bad Wolf, we have Two.
Thank you, thank you, thank you! The three of us had a great time at your birthday party.
It was a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful party. That is, all three of us think it was wonderful.
As you know, we have had a terrible time building our houses. Now that we are sure that no wolf can blow down our new house, no matter how hard he huffs and puffs, we would like to finally have a house warming party on April twenty-ninth. We would be very happy if you were our special guest. We are also sending invitations to Baby Bear, Little Red Riding Hood, and Peter Rabbit. We look forward to a wonderful day.
Love, love, love your three friends,
Pig One, Pig Two, Pig Three
At the onset, one already gets a feel of the fractured element of the narrative with all fairy characters gathering together in one housewarming party. The word play is likewise evident with the constant repetition of certain words to stand for each of the three pigs’ thoughts or states of being.
BFFs Goldilocks and Little Red Riding Hood. While Disney
has managed to portray and bring together the Disney Princesses Cinderella, Snow White, Beauty (from Beauty and the Beast), Jasmine, and Ariel together (to the ease [or burden] of mothers who are planning themed-birthday-parties for their fairy daughters) – these characters have not really been brought together in a meaningful and coherent way through an actual written narrative (at least as far as I know) – except of course through William Steig’s Shrek’s postmodern and deliciously-absurd twist to fairy tales in the movies, and yes Hoodwinked, and the recent Tangled (which I have not yet seen by the way).
Alma Flor Ada was able to manage this merging of characters beautifully with Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks remaining true to their ‘identities’ except for some minor stylized changes that serve to make their characters even more pronounced.
One clear illustration of this add-in is Goldilocks helping out her father in their farm in Veggie Lane. Here is an extract of her letter to Baby Bear (who is neither too hard nor too soft, too hot nor too cold, but “just right”):
Dear Baby Bear,
Your letter was very nice. I have always loved getting letters. Although right now I am getting so many, I can’t find enough time to answer back. And my father is always after me to go water the vegetables.
I don’t mind too much watering the lettuces and the carrots. They grow close to the well and I don’t have to carry the watering can that far. But the spinach and the peas are much further away and that full can gets heavy. I can’t understand how anyone likes to eat that green stuff anyway.
I would love to go to your house to play hide-and-seek a week from Sunday and meet your cousins Teddy and Osito. I have already asked Little Red Riding Hood to come also.
Your very good and busy friend,
The authenticity of Red Riding Hood’s character, on the other hand, is evident with the correspondence between her and her grandmother who likewise prefigured in the original narrative. A letter written by Grandma to Little Red establishes that beautifully:
You have such a wonderful imagination! Just to think… a birthday party with bears,
rabbits, and pigs. Well, well, I imagine you and Goldilocks must have had fun with your stuffed animals.
What I find valuable in this letter is that it also throws in an adult account to children’s imaginings much like in the picture book Dear Mr. Blueberry as reviewed by Mary several weeks back. As all these characters from various fairy lands far and wide come together, a grown-up comes in and says “What a beautiful imagination! However, my dear, that can’t be possible.”
Premeditated Mischief, Intercepted Missives, and Intentional Villainy. For some reason, the wolves in this story (there had to be two, otherwise who would the wolf write letters to?) reminded me more of Mr. Alexander Wolf in Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith’s The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs (as reviewed here while Fats’ comprehensive post on the subject of the three pigs and their fractured variations can be found here). The fact that it also brings together two tales with wolves on it (Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs) – it makes sense that they are viewed separately. Wolves are not one and the same, you know. Their characters could be finely sharpened and nuanced as could be seen in this narrative.
The wolves are portrayed as smart, reasonable, and with a predilection for high-sounding words. This is an example of a letter written by Fer O’Cious to Cousin Wolfy Lupus:
Dear Cousin Wolfy,
After my humilation at their hands, my continued surveillance of the porcine trio and their friends has finally proven useful.
I have been led to believe that there will be a gathering at their house on the twenty-ninth of April for a house warming party. This means that a delicious bunch or morsels – that is, guests – will be attending and I have a stupendous plan to ensure that not all of them will return home.
Wolfy’s response was equally (if not even more) ostentatious and given to long-sounding phrases – much like an academic, really. Moreover, the word-play and even the choice of fonts for Wolfy’s missive shows this very sharp attention to detail of both the author and illustrator.
Dear Cousin Fer,
You are definitely right about the forthcoming event on April twenty-ninth. Yesterday, as I was trailing that appetizing-looking creature in red, she seemed to have gotten scared somehow. As she ran into her grandmother’s house, she dropped an invitation on the path. Sure enough, those pigs of ours are inviting everyone to a house warming party. I am enclosing the foolish card for your perusal.
I found any mention to warming in their house somewhat distasteful, their description of their abode pretentious, and their reference to us rather offensive.
There is no question that I will join you in your efforts. I like your plan and I will be there on the twenty-seventh with ready paws and sharpened teeth.
Your affectionate cousin, Wolfy
While Fats’ characterization of Lon Po Po (as seen in her post here)
was sinister and dark – as complemented by Ed Young’s artwork – the wolves here appear more like criminal masterminds weaving plots, exchanging ideas, and with such a strong sense of seemingly-polite upbringing – with a tendency towards being haughty and arrogant, their pointy noises up in the air. Yet their bright minds are continually thwarted by the naive innocence of little girls and fuzzy little rabbits and bears who do not even know what “house warming” means (“Do you think we bring blankets to warm the house?” – Goldilocks).
End Notes. There are a variety of ways that this picture book can be ingeniously introduced in the classroom. Not only would the children’s word knowledge be enriched, they would also have an enjoyable time teasing out which narrative is which and how they all come together. There are also references to Peter Rabbit whose links to the character had been significantly tied to Goldilocks having a farm – there is nothing contrived or ill-planned about this book. The way the elements blend together is just genius.
One other thing that I valued about this book is that it shows a high respect for children’s intelligence and does not “dumb down” the words, phrases, even the beautiful artwork in which you can literally drown in. The complexity and intricacy of the plot engage the young reader and challenge them to go beyond the text and study the illustrations for further ideas on how the story has evolved.
I recently discovered that this book is a sequel to an equally-popular picture book by Alma Flor Ada and Leslie Tryon entitled Dear Peter Rabbit Querido Pedrin which won the Parent’s Choice Honor Award. Here is a website on Peter Rabbit containing various reviews from Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal just to name a few – while this is the link to further reviews of Yours Truly, Goldilocks. There is also a third book in the series entitled With Love, Little Red Hen which loving parents and dedicated educators might wish to check out. Review to Red Hen could be found here.
The author, Alma Flor Ada is a Professor Emerita at the University of San Francisco and a former Radcliffe Scholar at Harvard University. She has received quite a number of recognition for her work in children’s literature including the Christopher Medal, the Pura Belpre Medal and NCSS and CBC Notable Book (click here to be taken to the source). She is also an internationally known and highly respected figure in enriching Latino, Hispanic & Multicultural Children’s Literature & Poetry. To know more about Professor Ada, click here to be taken to her official website.
Leslie Tryon is not only an accomplished illustrator, she is also a
recognized writer of children’s books. In her bio she noted that she began drawing at roughly the same time that she learned how to walk. Prior to becoming an author and illustrator, she was also a Dancer where she learned about the importance of discipline, hard work, and patience (source here). Aside from these fractured fairy tale series with Alma Flor Ada, she is also best known for her Albert Book Series, one of which won the ALA Notable Book Award (“Albert’s Alphabet”). She has also won the Ezra Keats Award for Excellence in the Arts. If you wish to know more about her and her work, click here to be taken to her official website.