It is clear by simply flipping through this book why Lon Po Po: A Red Riding Hood Story from China, by Ed Young is a Caldecott winner. Young tells Little Red Riding Hood in a way that will be fresh to most young American readers, but the illustrations are the best part: Young manages to insert the features of the wolf into the tranquil watercolor landscapes. (see below)
In this telling, there are three little girls instead of one. Their mother leaves them home alone for the night while she goes to visit their grandmother. A hungry wolf overhears and, as soon as the mother is out of sight, knocks on the house, pretending to be the grandmother. The girls are obviously confused, but are soon convinced that grandmother and mother simply missed each other on the road. The wolf is clever: he blows out candles to keep himself hidden and explains his bushy tail and sharp nails by promising to weave baskets for the girls. The oldest daughter guesses the wolf’s true identity, however, and lures him outside by describing the most delicious ginko nuts that will make the eater healthy and young. The girls quickly scamper up the tree, but the wolf cannot follow. They tell him that they’ll haul him up in a basket. Gluttony clouding his judgement, the wolf agrees and the girls proceed to drop the wolf from higher and higher heights until he is dead.
I like this version because the girls save themselves. They are not reliant on a male rescuer in the form of a huntsman. It is also fairly realistic, talking wolf aside. He stays hidden in the dark instead of being unusually big-eyed and -eared. No one has to be dramatically cut out of the wolf’s stomach, miraculously still alive. All in all, this book is a deserving winner, entertaining and visually stunning.