Red in the hood, seven little cowboys,
& pinto bean stalks

h1 September 4th, 2006 by jules


I love it when contemporary authors/playwrights/screenwriters/etc. play with fairy tales, as long as it’s done well. There are so many great picture book adaptations, novel adaptations, variations on a theme, stage and screen adaptations, fractured fairy tales, etc. I wish I could live multiple parallel lives at once, and one of the things I’d do is study to become a fairy tale scholar of sorts. I could start out as Maria Tatar’s lackey. A librarian can dream.

So, needless to say, I was excited about Patricia Santos Marcantonio’s Red Ridin’ in the Hood and Other Cuentos (2005), aimed at the intermediate-aged reader, in which eleven classic European tales — from fairy tales to folk tales to the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice — are given a mostly modern Latino twist. This collection of tales has its moments, but — for the most part — I was disappointed with the rather clunky prose and the heavy-handed messages in most of the tales. I know, I know; fairy tales have strong moral and didactic purposes — they give us lessons, telling us (particularly Grimm), do good . . . or else! (however, as the above Tatar link will tell you, morals were often added to the tales at the time they were rewritten for children — not to mention the moral ambiguity that exists in many tales, also discussed in the link to the Tatar profile). But the translation, if you will, of the fairy tale’s inherent moralizing into Marcantonio’s mostly modern Mexican-American tales is forced, too lumbering and too awkwardly instructive in spots.

Some of the stories read almost like a fairy tale script with a few Spanish words thrown in here and there (and if, like me, you don’t speak a word of Spanish except what you learned from “Sesame Street,” don’t worry, my friend; the book comes complete with a glossary in the back). In “Emperador’s New Clothes,” Emperador Gomez, the most popular boy at Emiliano Zapata High School, is arrogant and, of course, always dressed to the nines. All his classmates — with the exception of Veronica — are admirers of his sartorial reign. Veronica brings Gomez down by tricking him into thinking that a world-famous fashion designer headed straight for Emiliano Zapata High School has her eyes on him. He sees no clothes on the hanger, just as the traditional fairy tale on which the story is based would have us guess. “The clothes are there, Mr. Gomez,” Veronica tells him, disguising her voice as the designer’s, “but they are so beautiful and fashionable that only the coolest people can see them.” Well, you know how the story goes. This tale is an example of a not-so-inspired retelling of the classic tale as well as an example of one in which the requisite moral ends up sounding overbearing and far from subtle: After being laughed at, Gomez “vowed right on the spot that he would no longer judge anyone by what they wore. Clothes — no matter how ‘in’ or ‘out’ — did not make a difference. It was who was in them.” And, of course, he suddenly gets a “king-size heart.” Though the same result occurs in the classic tale upon which this one is based, the stiff writing combined with the modern setting makes the abrupt ending of this tale ring untrue. (The illustrations throughout the book, though, by Renato Alarcao are a joy to behold, and when we see Gomez from behind in his boxers that say “How hot am I?”, standing on the school’s auditorium stage while the students explode into laughter, well . . . it’s pretty funny. These illustrations beg to be in color but still radiate style, attitude, and much character, almost amplifying some of the mediocre tales).

Given what Eisha referred to in her “Spanish Gothic” post as our standard-American-public-school education, I did enjoy those tales that incorporated a bit of Mexican history. In “Belleza Y La Bestia,” it’s 1864, and the Beast tells us that Benito Juárez is leading the Mexican opposition to the French intervention and the imposition of Maximilian of Habsburg as “Emperor of Mexico,” amidst much confusion and revolution (in La Bestia’s pre-hirsute days):

“The poor began to shout for land and for change, and the name of Benito Juarez, whom they called the president of Mexico. I did not recognize that rebel government and instead asked Emperor Maximilian to send guards to protect my property. No matter that Maximilian was not Mexican but a puppet of the French. He was royalty. Juarez was just a short Zapotec Indian who dressed in black. Meanwhile, I spent my days and nights pursuing only my pleasure, so I was in no mood to help a dirty viejita at my door.”

Not realizing that the viejita is really a bruja, a witch of great power, he is turned into the lonely Beast that he is when the story opens.

And a couple of tales stand out as somewhat innovative, putting the most twist and a little bit of vigor into the traditional tales. In “The Three Chicharrones,” Dinero Martinez, the enterprising and opportunistic — not to mention smarmy — wolf, who carries a big, black briefcase and drives a jalapeno-green sports car, dupes the first two pigs with his real-estate schemes. But when he tries to make an offer on Astuto’s land and brick home, Astuto gets the upper hand, and the three chicharrones establish Residencias Chicharrones, homes in suburbia for those just starting out in life. And “The Sleeping Beauty” is told from the perspective of the bruja who cast the spell, a fresh perspective, indeed, though Alarcao’s wonderful illustration of this teen sitting in her room with her black clothes and skeleton bedspread with her defiant, lonely manner do more for the story than the writing itself.

Though I was clearly disappointed with some of the tales, I’d still recommend this book to middle-grade teachers and librarians wanting to explore fairy tales and variants thereof, and I think this book would do much for what we call reluctant readers (due to the fact that some tales are set in a modern, teen setting).

A School Library Journal reviewer begs the question: “{W}hat exactly is the point? It’s not as if the various Latino cultures have no rich oral traditions of their own.” I think what Marcantonio is trying to do is ambitious, impressive, and important; I simply had higher hopes for the end product.

One comment to “Red in the hood, seven little cowboys,
& pinto bean stalks”

  1. Hi there,

    I know It’s been a while since this review has been written (actually a day before my birthday!), but I would like to leave a thank you note here anyway. I am very happy to know that according to your standpoint my illustrations added a good “counterpart” narrative to the stories in Red Ridin’ the Hood. Your comments made me very happy indeed. I wish they could be posted in Amazon website…There you will find a not so good critique on the illustrations I created for this book.

    All best,


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