Book Review: Little Red Writing By Joan Holub & Melissa Sweet

Confession: I have a very slight obsession with the story of “Little Red Riding Hood.” I know I am not alone in this as I continually find book after book that reillustrates, adapts, or references this famous tale. My collection of said adaptations is slowly growing and I hope to feature more of them now that my penchant toward collecting them is out in the open. I would not have planned my first “little red” review to be what I’m about to share, but I am extra super excited to start off the reviews for the “little red riding hood” tag here with an extremely clever, bizarrely concocted version such as this beauty coming out this fall. That’s right, I’ve got a sneak preview for you! Thanks to some new friends at Chronicle Books, I received this lovely book in the mail last week with hopes that I would like it and want to show it off. Yes and yes! Now it would not have been hard for someone to do their research and see that I am a fan of anything Melissa Sweet creates; but how they knew about my soft spot for this particular tale, I can only wonder. Well played Chronicle.

Without further ado, allow me to present this marvelous adaptation of a much beloved fairytale. Here is Little Red Writing by Joan Holub, pictures by Melissa Sweet, coming October 2013.

Right off the bat I will admit that I did a double take on that title. It tricks the brain for sure. Not only is there a clever wordplay on “riding,” but there is a word missing! It feels kind of like someone playing a familiar tune on the piano and leaving the last note off. While that is frustrating, this is more intriguing, but you do have to mentally prepare yourself to end with a verb rather than an adjective. Totally changes the meaning at that point. I do wonder though if it is going to start a trend in picture book creation. Surely someone is already working on Goldilocks and the Tree?

Now please scroll back up and gawk at that cover a bit longer. You should be tipped off right away to the incredible eye-candy awaiting inside. This book packs a punch of color, hand-lettering, collage, wordplay, cleverness, and image-overload.

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and that’s just the title page!

I’m going to make what I consider a safe assumption that everyone is familiar with the “Little Red Riding Hood” story structure. As I said before, there are gobs of adaptations; but Holub’s spin is quite new if you ask me. This Little Red is a red pencil attending Pencilvania School with a whole bunch of other sharp students. One day her teacher, Ms. 2, gives the class an assignment to create a story and she hands Little Red a basket of nouns with instructions to stay on her story path.

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Being an adventurous tool, Little Red quickly tires of typical verbs and is drawn into the actions of her classmates endeavors. Caught up in all kinds of action words, she soon finds herself deep in a descriptive forest.

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Thankfully her word basket helps route her back to her story path. A couple more word issues cross her path until she eventually encounters the adventure she sought and yet was not as equiped for as she had hoped. No “Little Red Riding Hood” story would be complete without a wolf of some sort and Little Red’s beast is of disastrous intentions as a ravenous pencil sharpener, the Wolf 3000.

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Little Red, being a hero of a pencil of course, must rise up to the literary challenge and chases the Wolf all the way to… Principal Granny’s office. Chaos and questioning ensues (à la the good old fairytale “what big eyes/the better to see” etc…) and everything comes to an explosive tipping point that can only have come from the witty and surprising mind of Joan Holub.

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Whew! You wouldn’t think recapping such a familiar tale would be difficult, but this is no typical adaptation. I barely scratched the surface of details and wordplay that abound; and as to the rest of the story, you won’t guess what hit you, er… it. I recently read a quote from William Styron:

“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.”

This book is a prime example. The storyline is very full and it is combined with an amazing amount of colorful collage. While visually stunning and immensely entertaining, this is no light read. I am not one to adhere or even pay attention to suggested age ranges on picture books, but I do find this particular piece one to be mindful of an age bracket. While children of all ages will adore poring over the detailed images, the story is long and packed with grammatical puns that will definitely be more appreciated by an older lot. By no means am I suggesting not sharing this with young minds (please note earlier comment on ignoring age ranges), but I do care to alert about its most probable age of enjoyment. Think of it like a Pixar movie (a.k.a. Toy Story) that is easily beloved by tikes en masse, but is also overflowing with puns, humor and imagery that only maturer minds would understand. I have read through it multiple times over the week and every time I discover a new joke, illustration or quirk that adds another element of delight. This is one of those books that will entertain immediately and grow in interest as comprehension increases.

I feel like I should say something about the art, but really, how much more can I gush over the brilliance of Melissa Sweet? Her work has been capturing my mind again and again, and I really think it just keeps getting better, which doesn’t seem like it should be possible. I could spend a week analyzing, studying and drooling over the watercolors, pencil, and collage that covers every aspect of this book; but unfortunately, it seems reading a picture book that encourages creative writing has given me inspiration to write the most epic post yet. So just go get the book and swoon over the art in person. You won’t regret it.

Be on the lookout for this book coming in October of 2013. It would make an excellent gift for the budding little writers in your life or at least keep you prepared for those deep descriptive forests in your own adventures!

7 thoughts on “Book Review: Little Red Writing By Joan Holub & Melissa Sweet

  1. Looks like another Sweet masterpiece. I totally agree that art seems to be getting better, though hard to imagine, because I felt completelybsatisfied when I discovered her books years ago -it sings! Can’t wait for this one, the premise is sure to inspire every kid to make something great!


  2. Holub and Sweet are a GREAT combo. Two creative souls that were somehow united. But let me say that the word you used, “brilliant,” is one of the most apt descriptions of the incredible work of Melissa Sweet.

    This book looks astounding and I will probably by half a dozen copies to gift to young friends (as I do with most of Melissa’s works).

    Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island
    A Little More Red-she wrote AND illustrated this version of Little Red Riding Hood.


  3. Wow! This book looks absolutely stunning! It almost seems cruel of you to share about it now when I can’t have it till October! 🙂 But I’m glad you did share about it at Booknificent Thursday! Hope to see you again soon.
    Tina from


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