This week we look at a story from my home state of Louisiana entitled Petite Rouge (Little Red.) It is written by Mike Artell who lives in Covington, Louisiana which is about three hours from my hometown. I recognised the illustrations because Jim Harris also illustrates several retellings of fairy tales, the most well known probably being The Three Little Javelinas.
I like this retelling because it fits all the tropes of Little Red Riding Hood stories, but in a fresh way that combines things that are specific to Louisiana culture. In this tale, Petite Rouge is a duck who lives in a swamp and is taking a basket with shrimp etouffee, boudin and gumbo with hot sauce. to her Grandmere. She paddles to her granny's house in a pirogue (a type of boat) and meets an alligator.
While these are all things you do find in Louisiana, not everywhere is this rural. I grew up in a city and never paddled a pirogue in my life. I recall in 1990 as an exchange student being very cross because my host family assumed that because I was from Louisiana my life was living in a swamp, playing the banjo, surrounded by alligators. Growing up I did see gators, but only when we went specifically out to places like Indian Creek at night. Or the time I went on a school trip to Avery Island where they make Tabasco Sauce. One of my classmates was nearly eaten by a gator there. Actually, a friend had a gator that lived in a bayou that ran through her backyard. They fed him raw meat and called him Alexander Hamilton.
Perhaps I am more of a stereotype than I realise.
While I do find books like this charming and terribly fun to read aloud, I worry they perpetuate myths about Louisiana.
I like this version, however, because unlike other versions where our protagonist is either helplessly consumed or sits around blubbing for someone to save her, Petite Rouge and her clever cat TeJean outwit the gator by making him eat boudin with hot sauce until smoke comes out his ears. Although it really is the cat's idea, Petite Rouge is the one that pours on the hot sauce and saves the day.
The illustrations are charming, but my only critique would be I really feel like the bottle of hot sauce which is central to the story should be Tabasco Sauce. To me, Tabasco is the quintessential symbol of Louisiana spices. Practically every child I know went on a school trip to the Tabasco plant on Avery Island. In reality, I prefer other hot sauces, but Tabasco is symbol of the state. Perhaps it's because Jim Harris is from North Carolina or maybe there was a copyright issue. Who knows.
I have found a good version on youtube where someone reads it enthusiastically with a reasonably good Cajun accent as the illustrations are shown. I say reasonably good because of the pronunciation of words like Grandmere (the a should sound more like ah to resemble the French pronunciation) and the word cher which means dear/darling and should be pronounced more like shah than sher and NEVER with a hard ch sound (chah) like he does in the video.
Ya'll have a good time, yeah?
Stay tuned next week where a brave and clever young girl outwits a fox and managed to carry her basket of eggs safely to their destination.