Basic Plot Summary: A little red hen finds some grain and asks her farmyard friends to help her plant it, but they refuse. She asks for their help again to harvest the wheat, mill the wheat and then bake bread with the flour, but each time, they refuse to help. When the bread is ready, they all want to help eat it, but she will not share with those who wouldn’t help in the preparation.
This story is an old folk tale that was first published in 1874, although its roots likely go much farther back and some believe it has its origins in Russian folklore. Initially used as a morality tale intended to teach children the value of hard work and personal effort, it has also been used to make lots of different political statements over the years regarding social service programs. Disney’s animated short version is notable because it featured the first appearance of Donald Duck (as one of the friends who refused to help, of course). More recent versions lean towards a kinder, gentler red hen who finds it in her heart to share with the others (and usually has them do the dishes instead).
The Little Red Hen – This version doesn’t stray far from the original story, although the hen does manage a little successful delegation by using the services of both a miller and a baker. She keeps the bread for herself and her chicks at the end, as well, keeping to the original moral lesson. Author John Escott does a wonderful job adding in little details to fill out the story so that it’s not too much “Not I!” repetition and Annie West’s illustrations are simple and delightful, especially in the way she draws the chubby little hen and her chicks. (Gingham Dog Press, 2003)
The Little Red Hen – Only the first eight pages of this book deal with the original story, as we see the little red hen eat breakfast by herself when her roommates (a rat and a cat) refuse to help with even the super simple task of turning the oven on. The story goes on after that, introducing a fox who captures the little red hen. Fortunately she brings a pair of scissors with her when he throws her into his sack so she can escape. This last part of the story is weird and I can’t seem to find the origin of it. British novelist Alan Garner wrote several fairy tale stories towards the end of his career. Norman Messenger’s artwork is done in a folk art style, but with lots of realistic detail. I like the art quite a bit, but can’t really recommend the book. (DK Publishing, 1997)
The Little Red Hen (Makes a Pizza) – Author Philemon Sturges puts a contemporary spin on the story by having the red hen ask for help with the shopping instead of the actual labor. She decides to make a pizza but her poor planning necessitates several trips to the store, where her impulse buying sends her back home with way more than she needed every time. (She must have gone to Target.) Amy Walrod thoroughly entertains with her cut paper collage illustrations, which force you to slow down and examine all the little details in every picture. Hen happily shares her pizza with her friends, who in turn are more than happy to do the dishes. (Dutton Children’s Books, 1999)
The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah – The story is given a Jewish makeover in this version from author Leslie Kimmelman, with the Little Red Hen preparing for Passover. It includes several Yiddish phrases (and a glossary in the back for those of us who don’t know the language) and even though it’s full of humorous moments, it also educates about the traditions of Passover. There’s even a recipe for matzah. Paul Meisel uses ink, watercolor and pastel in his illustrations, which are a perfect companion for the comic story. A very different version that I enjoyed (and learned from) quite a bit. (Holiday House, 2010)
And what did we learn? What I take away from The Little Red Hen is that if you plan to benefit from something, you should be willing to put some effort into it as well.