Friday, March 7, 2008

"Petite Rouge"

Title: Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood
Author: Mike Artell
Illustrator: Jim Harris
Publisher: Puffin Books, 2001
Genre: Traditional Stories
Age Range: 2-3

Summary: This is the story of “Little Red Riding Hood” with a Cajun twist. Petite Rouge’s mother tells her that she needs to take gumbo to her sick grandmother. She has to cross the swamp, but her mother warns her to beware of the alligators. She comes across Claude, the gator, who wants some food for lunch. Petite gets a stick and bats him away. He is angry, and sneaks into the grandmother’s house. The scared grandmother hides in the closet, as Claude disguises himself as grandmother in order to obtain Petite’s food. Petite and her cat arrive and question the false grandmother. Claude jumps up at chases Petite, hoping to catch her and eat her. Her cat takes a piece of boudin and soaked it in hot sauce. Petite throws it into Claude’s mouth, and he jumps into the swamp because it is so hot in his mouth. Grandmother and Petite eat the food and laugh at Claude, who never goes near people again.

Response: The most crucial part of the entire story is the distinct Cajun dialect that is used by the narrator. There is a glossary in the front that helps with some unfamiliar words, and shows how to pronounce them. It took me quite a while to really get the hang of it, and I had to read and re-read passages several times. I think it worked best when I was able to read aloud. I love the title Petite Rouge, meaning little red in French. The author’s note at the beginning of the book explains a little bit about the Cajun people, and how they earned their name. This is interesting information that I never knew. The dialect is a mixture of the French and English spoken down in Louisiana. The villain was of course an alligator, who are well known in the swamps down south. I thought it was great how he was given a very common French name, Claude. Something that set this particular version apart was that Petite Rouge was given a sidekick. She had a cat named TeJean who helped her every step of the way. This Little Red actually wore a red jacket with a patched hood, like the girl in the story I remember from my childhood. As Little Red departs through the swamp she meets Claude, and is so brave fending him off with a stick. The illustrations in this book are some of my favorite. The artistic media used are watercolor and pencil on Stathmore rag bristol. The water color is used in different degrees of darkness. For example, a lot of the background pictures of the swamp are done in a very watery based water color because they are light, but you can still make out the trees that seem to extend on forever. The nature and characters seem to be done in much more rich water colors. The nature in the book is also very realistic, while the characters are much more cartoon-like. There are both single and double-page spreads. The text and illustrations coincide with one another, and because the dialect that is used is difficult, the pictures really help readers to see what is taking place in the story. There is a little mouse that is found on every picture except for the one where TeJean is handing Petite Rouge the hot sauce. Food is a very large part of the story. Petite Rouge sets out on her journey because she is supposed to be going to take gumbo and other traditional Cajun foods to her sick grandmother. Claude is simply hungry for food, and that is his motivation for disguising as the grandmother. Food is also what saves Petite because they douse Claude’s food in hot sauce, forcing him back into the swamp to cool down. Another interesting thing I noticed with the pictures was that there are famous paintings in the grandmother’s house, just painted with animals instead of humans. For example, there is a picture of the Mona Lisa in the background. The illustrations show extreme emotions, and the story is told with great exaggeration. I think this also goes back to the Cajun culture, as it is known for being extreme. This story spices up “Little Red Riding Hood” by adding a few extra things, including hot sauce to save the day.

Teaching Ideas: This story can be incorporated into the teaching idea about Lon Po Po, by comparing and contrasting the two tales. I think this can also be used when studying the French colonization, and talking about the Cajun culture down in Louisiana. It is a great way to talk about dialect because it is so distinct and different from a typical text. Because of the intricate dialect that is used, I would probably wait until first or second grade to incorporate this story so that the children could enjoy it and understand it.

No comments: