CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 14. . . .March 6, 2009
Ruby Riding Hood. (Max & Ruby). Key to Reading Level 2.
Rosemary Wells. Harry Endrulat, text adaptor.
Toronto, ON: Key Porter Books, 2008.
24 pp., pbk., $5.99.
Determination (Personality trait)-Juvenile fiction.
Preschool-grade 2 / Ages 4-7.
Review by Bruce Dyck.
The Big Max Wolf reached toward the basket.
"Cookies!" said the Big Max Wolf.
Ruby Riding Hood is based on the television series Max and Ruby, and it is a Max and Ruby variation of the classic story, Little Red Riding Hood.
In this retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, Ruby as Red Riding Hood sets off for Grandma's house with a basket full of cookies, a basket which, of course, Max, as the Big Max Wolf, attempts to steal from Ruby as she makes her way to Grandma's house. His first attempt, which occurs along a path in the woods, is foiled by Ruby at the last minute as is his attempt to steal it while Ruby naps against a tree and while she takes time to swing at the playground. Frustrated by his failure to get the basket from Ruby, Max takes the opportunity to run on ahead of Ruby when she stops to talk to a wood cutter whose only purpose in the story seems to be to allow Max to beat Ruby to Grandma's house. Upon arriving at Grandma's house, Max puts on Grandma's shawl and pretends to be Grandma. When Ruby arrives, she questions several inconsistencies in "Grandma's" appearance. When the real Grandma enters, Max tries to hide but soon admits to his true identity. The story ends with Grandma's looking in the basket and announcing that there are enough cookies for all of them to share.
In the television episode of the same name, the story begins with Ruby's telling the story of Little Red Riding Hood to Max. Without this intro, the book version of the story just doesn't quite feel right. It is awkward at times, and the loss of the intro means that there is no explanation for the loss of the spontaneity that usually accompanies Max's actions. The pictures in the book look like they should be from a play as the characters are clearly in costume. Max's taped together cone-shaped nose is cute, as are his wolf gloves and tail, and Ruby does make a good Red Riding Hood.
The loss of the intro, while small, really pulls the book down for me. Without the explanation that Ruby is telling a story, it just doesn't quite feel like Max and Ruby are, well, Max and Ruby. The way in which Max comes across as a pure antagonist who simply wants to steal Grandma's cookies isn't consistent with the character of Max as I see it. As well, Ruby's character seems flat compared to what it should be. This may seem harsh when one considers that this is a short children's book, and yet another "Max and Ruby Early Reader Book" I reviewed managed to capture their characters much more effectively, and it was considerably shorter.
Another difficulty for me is found in the illustrations. As this book is based directly on the television show, the illustrations are screen shots from the television episode. This means that they are a weird combination with most of the foregrounds and characters rendered in sharp focus and the background arbitrarily blurry. While on the screen this translates into an effective three dimensional illusion, it doesn't work in the book. It is an annoyance that would probably be overlooked in a shorter book, but it really should have been fixed.
Having said all of that, Ruby Riding Hood is still a good story to read to younger children. They will not see the faults, and the familiarity of the Max and Ruby characters make for an attentive audience. As these characters also have a strong appeal to boys, the reality is that, despite its flaws, this is a book that will appeal to a hard to engage group.
Bruce Dyck is currently employed by his wife and two sons as a stay-at-home Dad in Winnipeg, MB.
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