In this clever retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood,” Little Red, one of many students in pencil school, is learning the basics of creative writing and storytelling from her teacher, Ms. 2. Having learned what a story path is, all laid out on Ms. 2’s blackboard in the book’s first spread, Red decides she wants to write a story about bravery: “Red is the color of courage,” so she’s up for the challenge.
With a basket from her teacher of 15 red words to use during times of trouble, she heads out, only to get bogged down by adjectives in the “deep, dark, descriptive forest.” After that, she meets Conjunction Glue and a truck full of adverbs (“We deliver speedily”) and gets carried away with run-on sentences that hardly carry her story. Following a growly sound, she eventually meets her wolf-like nemesis, a sharp-toothed pencil sharpener, who threatens to end her and who has already swallowed Principal Granny. Never fear. This intrepid little red pencil gallantly fights evil. Elements #2 and #3 of the story path, after all, are “Trouble” and “Even bigger trouble.” But in the end, one fixes the trouble. And Red heroically does so.
In Joan Holub’s Little Red Writing, young readers will learn a lot about story structure and storytelling tools—and likely without even realizing it. Melissa Sweet has much fun—the punny kind, too—with her playful illustrations, literally animating words (the initial letters of “suddenly, abruptly, & surprisingly” on the adverb spread have teeth and astonished looks in their eyes) and bringing pencil school to vibrant life with her observant details and smart design sense. (One poster on the wall notes the sewing club, which makes “pencil skirts.”) Sweet even puts the front and final endpapers to work to help tell the story.
This is an A-plus venture all the way, one that celebrates words and stories and is sure to entertain wannabe writers.
Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.