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Lil’ Red: An Interactive Story app review

lil red titleWhat’s black and white and red all over? Lil’ Red: An Interactive Story (2013; iOS and Android), Brian Main’s savvy digital retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood.” This light version of the fairy tale more or less follows the traditional trajectory but minimizes scariness. Naive Lil’ Red sets out through the woods for her grandmother’s, meets a hungry wolf on the way, falls for his Grandma disguise, gets gobbled up, and then is rescued by a kindly woodcutter. The whole gobbled-up-and-rescued part is fairly tame here; the woodcutter beats up the wolf — in a Looney Tunes-y cloud of dust and flailing limbs — managing to extract Lil’ Red totally unharmed. The chagrined wolf runs away…but then spots the Three Little (or should I say Lil’?) Pigs and skulks after them, indicating he may not have learned his lesson after all.

The story is told entirely through stylized illustrations and animation in a palette of black, white, and gray, with red accents from Lil’ Red’s hood, the flora and fauna, and the wolf’s eyes. There are music and sound effects but no text or narration, giving it a feel akin to a wordless short film. For the most part, automatic animations propel the story along, but some scenes require the user to tap a character or object to progress the plot. Other interactive opportunities add humor or invite the user to explore. Thought bubbles containing images clarify characters’ motivations (e.g., Lil’ Red envisions a cuddly puppy, while the wolf pictures her on a dinner platter) and call back to well-known elements of the original tale.

lil red meeting

lil red better to see you with

“The better to see you with”

The app may be wordless, but thoughtful music and sound effect choices significantly enhance the narrative. In the model of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, characters are given distinct instrumental “voices.” Lil’ Red is portrayed by a cheery xylophone, her little bird companion by a flute, the wolf by an clarinet (sometimes as part of a slinky jazz riff), and the woodcutter by a bassoon. The call and response and harmonies between the instruments clearly communicate situation and emotion. Overall, this is an unusual, highly engaging take on a familiar tale that also offers young children a chance to exercise their developing visual and musical literacy.

Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (requires iOS 4.3 or later; $3.99) and Android devices (requires Android 2.3 and up; $1.99). Recommended for preschool and primary users.

For a retelling with a similar aesthetic but its own narrative spin, read Bethan Wollvin’s Little Red, reviewed in the March/April 2016 Horn Book Magazine.

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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