Welcome to a new installment of Brightly’s Book Club for Kids, where we scour the classics and new releases to find books that young readers can enjoy together! This month’s book is a twist on a favorite fairy tale — filled with classic characters as you’ve never seen them before. Red will take you off the beaten path and into a world of magic.
This Month’s Selection
Best For: Kids ages 8 – 12.
What It’s About: Frightened of her own magical powers but frantic to find a cure for her sick grandmother, Red ventures into The Woods to find a magic powerful enough to save her. Accompanied by her red cape, a new (sometimes annoying) friend Goldie, and a protective wolf, Red overcomes obstacle after obstacle until she finds the answers she seeks.
Major Themes: Overcoming fear, unlikely friendships, learning to appreciate life (and to even accept its eventual end), and the importance of trusting yourself.
Why We Picked It: Clever, spirited, witty, and inventive, Red turns the familiar wolf, granny, and lost girl story on its head, reinventing a traditional fairy tale with complex characters whose fears often stand in the way of the lives they want to lead. Along the way, author Liesl Shurtliff exposes middle grade readers to age-appropriate conversations about life and death without veering into lectures or melodrama. Red is funny and provocative at the same time, just like the pre-teens it was written for.
A Word of Caution for Sensitive Readers: Death and loss are core themes to the book and are addressed openly. Red’s grandmother is seriously ill and a supporting character believes her mother no longer loves her.
Suggestions for Younger Readers: Too young to read Red? Get lost in these fairy tales instead:
What You’ll Need for Book Club
You’ll need the book, DIY decorations, book-themed snacks, our printable discussion questions (see below), and access to the Internet.
Book-Inspired Decorations and Snacks:
- Build Your Own Basket: Display simple but pretty paper baskets (use any colors you like), or if you’re particularly crafty, try this more complicated cardboard and twine option. Perfect for carrying goodies, plants, or whatever your heart desires.
- Gather a Bouquet: Roses and plants of all kinds play a big role in this story, so decorate your book club with beautiful flowers. Visit your local florist and fill a vase with a colorful bouquet, or make your own paper blooms (they last longer and if you give each one a dab of essential oil — try rose, lilac, or freesia — they’ll smell great too!).
- Wear Magical Tie-Dye: Red capes are so last year, so make your own tie-dye t-shirt instead. No wolf will mess with you when you’re wearing something this stylish — and magical looking! Pick up a tie-dye kit like one of these and a few plain white t-shirts (or any other white article of clothing) and make your own memorable garment.
- Prepare a Picnic: In the traditional Red Riding Hood story, the heroine sets out with a basket of treats for her ailing grandmother. Create a picnic meal for this month’s book club with delicious sandwiches for the adults, clever sandwich bouquets for the kids, freshly made lemonade, and individual apple pies. Eat at the dining room table, out on the lawn, or in a clearing in the woods.
- Make a Pot of Soup: If anyone is ailing like Red’s grandmother, it’s time for a pot of chicken soup. Try this delicious and easy recipe. Or if you prefer a vegetarian option, go red with a hearty tomato.
- Feast on Red Riding Hood Salad: Thanks to the wonders of Google, we discovered that there is a real Red Riding Hood Salad. How could you not make this?
The Book Club Discussion
Red takes a story we know and reimagines it, challenging us to see something familiar in a new way. As you discuss the book together, think about how the author uses a traditional story to explore new themes. Consider too, how you might react to the situations the characters find themselves in. Sometimes it’s easy to judge others for their poor choices, when in reality, we might do the same under the right circumstances. Keep in mind that books stretch our ideas about “how the world is supposed to be” and help prepare us for the unexpected.
- Although this story focuses on Red, the author refers to many other fairy tales. How many did you recognize?
- Red is both fascinated by and scared of her magic abilities. Why? Share examples of the effects of using magic in Red.
- Granny tells Red that fear, not magic, is what causes trouble. Do you agree? How did fear affect Red? When have you been afraid? How have you dealt with your fears?
- Who is Goldie? What do you know about her from the story? How are she and Red similar and different?
- Things are never quite what they seem in this story — beautiful water sprites are dangerous, witches are good, and wolves are more helpful than dangerous. Why do you think the author wrote these characters this way?
- At one point, Red remembers that “Granny said there were always at least two sides to any story, if not a dozen” (page 133). What does that mean? How does that idea play out in the book?
- Red makes some unlikely friendships throughout her journey. Discuss and compare her friendships with Goldie, Wolf, and Borlen.
- Goldie encourages Red to use her magic by saying “Some mistakes need to be made. Sometimes we have to fall down before we can stand up” (page 64). Do you agree? Why is practice important? Are there things you are good at because you practice?
- The concept of death is woven throughout this book. The Well Witch, Red, the Beast, and the Huntsman are all afraid of death. The dwarves and Granny, however, seem more accepting of their fates. What does Red learn about death during her journey with Goldie? What did you learn? What do you think of the choices some characters made to try to avoid death?
- “Life is like a story. It doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t end” (page 197). What did Beast mean by that? What did you think of Red’s ending?
After the Discussion
- Build Your Own Fairy Tale: Author Liesl Shurtliff incorporates characters from other fairy tales, like Goldie, throughout Red. Write down as many fairy tale characters as you can on separate slips of paper. Put them all in a basket, pull one out, and start a story. Pass the basket to someone else to pull out another slip and add their new character to the tale. Don’t stop until the basket is empty!
- Figure Out Your Fears: Ask each other what scares you and then find the names of your fears on this handy and comprehensive list. Just in case you were wondering, fear of the color red is “eryhtrophobia.”
- See Classic Characters Come to Life: Fairy tales have been big these past few years in television. Grab some popcorn and make a group date to binge watch “Once Upon a Time,” which weaves together classic fairy tales like Red. Adults and teens can also check out “Grimm,” inspired by Grimms’ Fairy Tales, but keep the little kids occupied with Disney’s animated classics like “Cinderella” and “Aladdin.” Be sure to check out the stage or big screen versions of the popular fairy tale-inspired musical “Into the Woods” — and pay particular attention to its version of Red Riding Hood.
- Meet the Big Bad Wolf: Learn more about these carnivores by visiting your local zoo or animal sanctuary, or reading about them online. Did you learn anything that surprised you?
- Generate a Genealogy: Grandmothers are important both to author Liesl Shurtliff, and to Red herself. Work together with your family to create a family tree — include all the relatives you can name. If you need help piquing your kids’ interest in their ancestry, Geni might help. Once you’re done, call your grandparents. Ask them to tell you stories from their childhood and write down what they say. These memories are a great way to build relationships between generations and discover new stories you never knew before. Better yet, invite them to join your next book club!
- Grow a Garden: To make sure you don’t have to wander off the path, create your own flower garden close to home. If you have a yard and a green thumb, try one of these garden plans or help your children place a pot on a window ledge or balcony, fill it with seeds, and watch the plants grow.
What to Read Next
Love fractured or reworked fairy tales? Want to see old classics reimagined? Ever wonder what happened to Dorothy after Oz or Cinderella after the ball? You’re in luck, because plenty of incredible authors have asked the same questions and have come up with new stories featuring beloved fairy tale characters in new adventures. If you loved Red, dive into “once upon a time…” with one of these titles:
Check out these picture books. For more book ideas for growing readers, click here.
Make sure to check out Liesl Shurtliff’s other funny and adventurous books inspired by fairy tales.
Or try one of these chapter books. For more middle grade book ideas, click here.
Teens and Adults
Older readers may enjoy exploring the darker side of happily ever after. For more book ideas, click here.
To see how cultures around the world have imagined Little Red Riding Hood, check out this list of titles or Little Red Riding Hood Stories Around the World, written by Jessica Gunderson and illustrated by Carolina Farias, Eva Montanari, and Colleen Madden.
Let us know what you think of Red and share your own ideas for Book Club for Kids in the comments below!