[Monday Reading] Atypical Portrayal of Females in Postmodern Fairytale Retellings

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.

Last Week’s Review and Miscellany Posts

The female portrait is a pencil drawing done by Iphigene on paper. The whole poster was completed using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. Thank you, once again, Iphigene for this lovely poster.

The female portrait is a pencil drawing done by Iphigene on paper. The whole poster was completed using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. Thank you, once again, Iphigene for this lovely poster.

We have just recently launched our new reading theme: Fearless Females and Courageous Women. Special thanks to dearest Iphigene for creating our widget this March/April. While we have just concluded our fairy tale reading theme, I thought that it would be good to do a spillover this week, especially as these postmodern fractured retellings of popular fairy tales do portray a very different depiction of females, turning the familiar stories over on their heads.

IMG_9110Little Red In The Hood

Written by: Glen Goei Illustrated by: Drewscape
Published by: Epigram Books, 2014
Review copy provided by publisher. Book photos taken by me.

Among the three Singaporean fairy tales that I have read over the past months (I featured all three here for the maiden publication of The Read Quarterly created by Sarah Odedina and Kate Manning), I have to admit that this one is my favourite. Not only does it very evidently situate this fairy tale within Singapore (references to East Coast Park, HDBs), it also is very successful in introducing a different texture to the narrative that is uniquely and genuinely Singaporean.

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Moreover, Little Red was not shown to be a gullible, easily-swayed young girl without a mind of her own – she struck me as someone who knows her mind – with a deep fascination for wolves as can be seen above.

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Add to that the fact that Grandmother is no simpering weakling who is sick and in need of freshly-baked bread and wine packaged in a basket. Grandmother, aptly named Rambo, “was a funny loud woman who took kickboxing lessons at the Katong Community Centre.” This one has resonances of the film Hoodwinked in it – but still so vastly different. Clearly, Grandma kicks butt in this story – very garang (i.e. fierce) but also very gentle towards her favourite grandchild.

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Drewscape, the artist, does not only play around with panels, he also plays with perspectives as can be seen in the image above. In this story, Little Red is the one who is sick, and Grandma rushed over to Little Red’s HDB flat in Pek Kio, carrying plastic bags from NTUC Fairprice – one of the more popular grocery stores here in Singapore – bearing ingredients for the chicken soup she plans to make in Little Red’s home. In quite a number of pages (including the book cover), Grandma is such a huge presence that she simply extends outside of the frame.

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There is also a sense of the sinister as Rambo finds someone else inside the flat – someone who is also wearing a red hood! Where, exactly, little Red is I shall leave for you to discover. Needless to say, the ending was simply brilliant.

The Girl In RedIMG_9167

Story and Pictures by: Roberto Innocenti Written by: Aaron Frisch
Published byCreative Editions, 2012
Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

I learned about this book when I attended the International Research Society for Children’s Literature Conference in Birmingham last year. One of the conference presenters talked about this picturebook and responses of both educators and students to the story. And I knew, right then and there, that I should get my own copy of this book.

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The story opens with a tiny toy-like grandmother weaving a story to a group of children indicating varying shades of interest/disinterest. This opening reminded me a little bit of the Filipino Lola Basyang who tells fairy tales to a group of wide-eyed young children sitting around her as she does her knitting.

Know this, though, children: 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 reader could sense from the first few pages alone that this would be a disturbing version of the familiar Red Riding Hood. For one, the woods have been transformed into an urban jungle of sorts. Yes, Nana is still sick – and a modern-looking, harried Mother with curlers in her hair asked Sophia to bring a pack of biscuits, honey, and oranges to Nana who “lives on the other side of the forest.”

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In this story, the ‘forest’ is one that most city folks are familiar with. It is in this landscape that the reader is able to catch glimpses of womanity – seeming portrayals of the objectification of females in billboards and ads, and the ever-present wolf that is embedded like so many visual clues within the pages.

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There is visual overload here as the reader drowns in such a media-saturated, hyper-busy landscape that feeds off the air of consumerism – from lingerie to toys, everything one could ever want or need can be found in a place called “The Wood” – found in the central part of this page.

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The big bad wolf also has a very different look as evidenced in the image above. The hunter who drove off the jackals and who gave Sophia a ride in his motorcycle, dropping her off along the way as he receives a phone call and claimed “he can go no further.” Of course, he found his way in Nana’s trailer – and what happened there is so horrific, it demanded the presence of the Polizot and the FDI in the end, with the hunter fleeing after Sophia found her way inside Nana’s trailer – way before the police even came into the scene.

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What is different, though, about this story – despite this ending – is Grandma’s reminder to the children who were crying over Sophias’s plight about their power to change the direction of a narrative:

Remember the thing about stories? Stories are magic. Who says they can have only one ending?

During the conference presentation, the speaker mentioned how some teachers reacted so strongly against this picturebook that they noted how they will not use this with their own students in the classroom. Interestingly, students’ responses are quite positive, as the story empowers them to do a restorying of their own possibly unfortunate circumstance, reminding them that they are the change they need to turn their story around.

I am interested to find out from teachers who might visit this blog today, whether you’d be keen to share this with your own students, and what age group would you share this book with?

IMG_9148Piggybook

Written and Illustrated byAnthony Browne
Published byThis edition published by Walker Books, 2008
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

Once again, Browne has proven himself a master in my book with this fractured fairytale that shows a very powerful depiction of motherhood and womanity piggy-backed so effectively in this Piggybook.

See the Father and the two sons and their never-ending shouts and demands juxtaposed with the near-invisibility of the Mother whose visage is so obscured, it’s like she has lost all sense of self:

The mother does all the housework while the three males do their thing expected to be waited on hand and foot. Then, one day, they come home and Mother is nowhere in sight. What they see instead is this:

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I was taken aback when I turned to this page, and awed by the power of those three words, as Mum takes a stand and leaves.

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With that simple declaration, the males in the family are shown to be who they truly are – and forced to do the very thing that they usually take for granted; their sense of entitlement stripped away totally that they are left on their knees, grovelling, sniffing for scraps. The end, though, shows a total break of the female stereotype with Mother fixing the car:

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Despite the story’s clear message, I did not find it heavy-handed at all. The images were visually-arresting and engage the reader even more with all the pigs subtly embedded across the most unlikely of places. It also invites a great deal of discussion among young readers. I read this aloud to my 14 year old girl who loved this story as she astutely pointed out little aspects in the images that I did not even notice initially. If you haven’t read this book yet, you should go find it immediately.

Currently Reading…

I am glad to share that I finished reading Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older last week and will be featuring it for our current reading theme.

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I also finished reading two graphic novel memoirs which I hope to share at one point – Persepolis 1 and Persepolis 2 by Marjane Satrapi.

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I have just started reading Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey and I am enjoying the language and the plot so far.

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10 Comments on [Monday Reading] Atypical Portrayal of Females in Postmodern Fairytale Retellings

  1. I love how you show pictures of the insides of the books.

    Theresa (The Truth About Books)
    See my answers here

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  2. Fabulous images. Love the coffee one! Love all the picture books and the title of Little Red in the Hood and its point of difference.

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  3. The Girl in Red looks fabulous. I hope you enjoy your books this week!

    My It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? post

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  4. I love all things fairy tale–and Little Red Riding Hood is one of my favorites. Both these versions intrigue me. I’m not currently teaching, and it’s hard to say if or how I might have used a book without reading it myself, but I would certainly be intrigued enough by your description to pursue it further. It sounds like a powerful lesson for middle schoolers. I love the idea that the reader can restory the events of their own lives, too.

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  5. I hope I can find the two Red Riding Hood books. I just finished Red by Liesl Shurtliff, & love that there are other tales. If still teaching, I would have shared that second one with my middle-school gifted students. They read well beyond their years, & I think many would have loved it. I love the first too, & this that you shared: “Know this, though, children: Stories are like the skies. They can change, bring surprises, catch you without a coat.” How great are those words! Also thanks for the Browne “Piggy” book-looks like a great conversation to have with older students! My daughter loves/loved working on her car when younger & is a “fix-it” person anyway, but did get some teasing because that’s not what girls do. She would love the book! Thanks, Myra.

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  6. The two Red Riding Hood books look amazing – and I hope you love Persepolis as much as I did.

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  7. crbrunelle // March 1, 2016 at 12:12 pm // Reply

    When I read The Girl in Red, I tagged it on my shelf Picture Books for the Older Crowd. I was thinking middle school or maybe upper elementary (fifth grade), but I don’t remember all of the details. I think maybe it was some of the mature illustrations or something that made me think that. Weren’t there some billboards that were not really kindergarten fair? I would have to revisit it to give a better answer.

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  8. That Singaporean grandma is my idol, I want to be her when I grow up. Lovely to see strong ladies of all ages being portrayed here – just because you’re a grown-up lady doesn’t mean you have to lose your independence or your feisty spirit!

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  9. I have wanted to read Persepolis for quite some time. You just reminded me of this, so I am going to head to the library to see if I can put a hold on it. Thank you!!

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  10. Love this topic! It is so important to have different types of women in literature!

    Happy reading this week 🙂

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