The Little Red Hen
The Little Red Hen is an old folk tale, most likely of Russian origin. The best-known version in the United States is that popularized by Little Golden Books, a series of children's books published for the mass market since the 1940s. The story is applied in teaching children the virtues of the work ethic and personal initiative.
Role in reading instruction
During the 1880s, reading instruction in the United States continued to evolve to include primers that became known as literature readers. Prior to this time highly moralistic and religious texts were used to teach reading. The Little Red Hen offers a moralistic tale of the importance of hard work and the shame as well as consequences of laziness without the use of religious quotes. During this time, consideration of the interest of the young reader became more central to the teaching of reading. In considering the young reader, the authors of this genre made their texts appealing visually both through illustrations and text formatting. "Margaret Free and Harriette Taylor Treadwell were the first authors to prepare beginning readers with a content consisting wholly of adaptations from the old folktales." (Smith, 1965/2002, p. 141). The genre of the folktale lent itself to repetitive vocabulary – an early reading strategy still in use today.
At each later stage (harvest, threshing, milling the wheat into flour, and baking the flour into bread), the hen again asks for help from the other animals, but again she gets no assistance.
Finally, the hen has completed her task and asks who will help her eat the bread. This time, all the previous non-participants eagerly volunteer. She declines their help stating that no one aided her in the preparation work. Thus, the hen eats it with her chicks leaving none for anyone else.
The moral of this story is that those who say no to contribution to a product do not deserve to enjoy the product: "if any would not work, neither should he eat."
An Irish version of the story has a rat and a mouse who refuse to help make a Christmas cake. The cake runs away and is chased by an owl, ditch diggers and washer women. A fox rescues the cake but tricks the cake and ends up eating it, to the dismay of the others.
In popular culture
- A Disney-produced Silly Symphony called The Wise Little Hen uses this tale as its basis which has Peter Pig and Donald Duck (in his debut; insteed of the cat or the frog as nether are in the disney version) as the ones who decline in the preparation of the bread.
- Revisions of the story include a current political version, based on a Ronald Reagan monologue from 1976. The farmer claims that the hen is being unfair if she does not share her bread with the other animals, and forces her to share her bread with those who would not work for it. This in turn removes the hen's incentive to work resulting in poverty for the entire barnyard.
- It was also used as an analogy to defend President George W. Bush's decision to bar companies from countries opposed to the Iraq War from bidding on contracts for reconstruction work.
- The Little Red Hen was featured in episode 14 of Super Why! In the book, the animals who decline to help the Little Red Hen make corn bread are a dog, a cat, and a duck. Super Why changes the ending by having the three animals help the Little Red Hen bake the corn bread for her chicks and later joining her in eating the corn bread.
- The Ant and the Grasshopper, Aesop's fable with a similar moral
- 2 Thessalonians 3:10
- Friedman, Amy; Johnson, Meredith (2014-12-21). "The Runaway Christmas Cake (An Irish Tale)". Universal Uclick. Retrieved 2014-12-26.
- "Little Red Hen ~ The Political Spin ~ Quite Amusing!!!". Sodahead.com. Retrieved 2011-12-31.
- PRO-BA'ATHISTS NEED NOT APPLY:, Canada barred from Iraq contracts (Associated Press, 12/09/03), Brothers Judd blog, December 9, 2003
- "The Little Red Hen".
- The Little Red Hen and other stories (HTML version), Retold and Illustrated by Florence White Williams, 1914, from Project Gutenberg
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