Letter from the Editor: Little Red Writing
How can I ever say how grateful I am for Joan Holub and Melissa Sweet? In addition to giving us this gorgeous, funny, smart book, they offered so much patience and insight and collaboration during the bookmaking process. What a joy they both were!
And thank goodness I had such wonderful travelling companions for a book like this one. Little Red Writing combines 3 or 4 (depending how you count) different stories at once. It was not simple (or quick) to make, but it was a delight from beginning to end.
Once upon a time in pencil school, a teacher named Ms. 2 told her class,
“Today we’re going to write a story!”
Story 1 (and 4*)
The primary story is the journey that Little Red herself sets out on.
“I want to write a story about bravery because red is the color of courage,” thinks Little Red. She will visit the library, the gymnasium, the supply closet, and the principal’s office; she’ll defeat a ravenous pencil sharpener; and she’ll save the day. But her story is also . . .
. . . the story of Little Red Riding Hood.
In order to function as a retelling/fractured fairytale, the story must also keep coming back to the story landmarks in the traditional Little Red Riding Hood. So our Little Red must encounter versions of the woods, granny’s house, the wolf, and the woodcutter. She even has a (useful) basket of goodies. But her story is also . . .
. . . the story of a story. Little Red encounters many of the same problems that young writers face as they find their way in the writing process. So the school library that Little Red visits is also the woods, and also represents the way a story can get lost and bogged down in description.
She meets some other office supplies along the way and gets stuck in a run-on sentence (too many conjunctions); she abandons punctuation and formatting (in a panic) and creates an impenetrable page of text. Most importantly, she follows her story path—one that gently reminds young writers:
1. to introduce character, setting, and idea;
2. that a story needs a dramatic arc; and
3. that a main character has to solve her own problem (that’s what makes a character the protagonist).
And Little Red’s basket is full—not of goodies for grandma—but of an assortment of nouns to use if she runs into trouble. (If students get stuck in their story, some teachers have them pull a word from a ‘writer’s block’ pile—and whatever word they choose, the student must put it into their story.)
The original Little Red Riding Hood is the story of a girl who walks a path through the forest, meets a wolf dressed as an old lady, and gets eaten. It is a Grimm’s fairy tale, and historically not intended for children. To my mind, it is about the idea that while we may avoid death along the path of life, death waits for all of us in old age’s clothes.
But the point of retelling a story is often to change what it means. The place where these three stories connect in Little Red Writing is not in death or age, but in courage.
It takes courage to fight the wolf (or in this case, the Wolf3000TM Pencil Sharpener), and it takes courage to write a story. This, along with a heaping dose of humor, is what Little Red Writing offers young writers as they start on their own journey into storytelling. Enjoy!
Footnote: which is the story that Little Red is living, and which is the story she is writing for her class assignment? At the end, she zooms back to her classroom, so she has been away—but she also has a finished story to share with the rest of the class. Did any of it really happen? Melissa and Joan wanted the line between the story Little Red writes and the story she lives to be not totally clear, and interpretable by the reader. Little Red Writing is about the process of storytelling, and Joan and Melissa wanted to acknowledge that the stories we invest in—whether reading them or writing them—do really happen to us. As J. K. Rowling put it, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
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