In his fifth book, award-winning illustrator Christopher Bing provides multiple versions that show how the heroine of a centuries-old story changed with the times.
Using his daughter as a model, artist Christopher Bing has drawn "The Story of Little Red Riding Hood" in gorgeous expressive, illustrations that convey the fun and foreboding of a classic fairy tale about an innocent young girl who has a lunch date with a big bad wolf.
In his fifth, soon-to-be published book, the award-winning Lexington, Mass., illustrator provides multiple versions that show how the heroine of a centuries-old story changed with the times.
The father of two daughters and a son, Bing has included in "Little Red Riding Hood" the first printed version by Charles Perrault and two later versions by the Grimm Brothers that reveal how a gullible victim became a damsel-in-distress who needed to be rescued by a hunter with a big gun.
Bing has created an up-to-date compilation of a coming-of-age tale for adolescent girls on the cusp of womanhood. It combines a reproduction of Perrault's first printed version, Harvard scholar Maria Tatar's new translation of the Grimm brothers, and vivid and remarkably detailed illustrations.
Referring to its many incarnations, Bing said "Little Red Riding Hood" has been interpreted over the years as "an empowerment tale for young women," a "coming-of-sexual age story" and a "victimization" saga.
Published by Handprint Books, an imprint of Chronicle Books, San Francisco, it will be in stores Sept. 22.
A 1983 graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Bing has illustrated several other stories.
He earned the prestigious Caldecott award for design in 2001 for recasting the baseball tale "Casey at the Bat" in the form of a scrapbook from 1888.
His penultimate book, "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere," is a historically accurate retelling of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem.
Since publishing his controversial "reinterpretation" of "The Story of Little Black Sambo" in 2007, Bing researched the history and cultural implications of "Riding Hood," which existed as an oral tale several hundred years before Perrault published the first printed version of the "Story of Little Red Cap" in 1697.
Bing's own model for Little Red Riding Hood has changed over the years.
When he first considered illustrating the story about a girl originally called Little Red Cap, he planned to use his older daughter Amy as a model. But as the years passed and she grew out of the role, he asked his youngest daughter to be his model.
He dedicated the book to "Tessa, my inspirational muse."
"This is really my children's book. I really did this for Tessa, my young daughter," he said, relaxing in his studio. "I'm reliving my experience of growing up through them."
Christopher Franceschelli, Handprint's founder who edited LRRH, praised Bing for "doing incredibly meticulous research that allowed him to really bring a sense of time and history to this book."
"Christopher achieves a weaving of different historical strands that make up the tapestry of a story," he said from his New York city office. "Christopher can't resist showing us the tale in the context of history."
After studying the story's early incarnations, Franceschelli said Bing brought together French courtier Charles Perrault's "original very cautionary tale" warning "pretty and decorous young ladies ... to resist the advances of predator wolves" and two Grimm versions with different endings.
In the first, he said a passing hunter "serendipitously" saves Red Riding Hood and her grandmother. And in the second, the clever grandmother tricked the wolf with sausages to save the day.
As if straddling the worlds of childhood and adulthood, Bing said he "tries to make my illustrations realistically fantastic."
"I try to make them real enough so viewers don't have to suspend their disbelief," he said. "People always ask me what kind of camera I used. I have to tell them these images aren't photos."
Like Tessa, Red Riding Hood has the spun gold hair and wide-eyed innocence of every fairy tale heroine who wanders into a dark forest. The wolf has the sly eyes and pointy teeth of Carl Rove.
And Bing has set his tale in an enchanted forest of huge trees, running streams and grandmother's cozy house, that is, until you-know-who shows up with an appetite.
In earlier books about Casey, Paul Revere and Abraham Lincoln, Bing evoked the era's atmosphere with precise details and period images, like hand bills or newspaper clippings.
"Little Red Riding Hood" goes further by unfolding in a Walt Disney magical wood that exudes the brooding menace of J.R.R. Tolkien's Forest of Fangom from "Lord of the Rings."
After "months of sitting before a drawing table," Bing finished in April the last of 14 remarkably detailed color illustrations and four black-and-white images. He uses a 108 Hunt flexible quill pen to draw the outlines of his images which he then colors.
He works in a second-floor studio in his barn that can only be entered by climbing a steep ladder that's missing a rung and hoisting yourself up by several ropes. The studio is cluttered with piles of books, musical cassettes, Buddha statues, CDs of "The Shadow," "The Jimi Hendrix Experience" and "The Making of 2001."
Bing recalled himself during childhood years as a "voracious reader who couldn't spell." He graduated from high school by writing book reports and term papers like comic strips to satisfy teachers he understood the subjects.
"I communicate with the world through my images. I had to learn to draw or I couldn't communicate with the world," he said. "I have this movie screen in the front of my skull. That's my way of communicating."
To learn about Handprint Books or order "The Story of Little Red Riding Hood," visit www.handprintbooks.com.
To learn about Christopher Bing or order his books, visit www.christopherbing.com.