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. It is so well known that it is frequently rewritten by pundits and bloggers to illustrate their favorite points.
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 transition to less blatant religious and moralistic tales while still emphasizing a clear moral. 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 show no willingness to contribute to a product do not deserve to enjoy the product: "if any would not work, neither should he eat."
In popular culture
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.
- The Ant and the Grasshopper, Aesop's fable with a similar moral
- The Wise Little Hen, a Disney-produced Silly Symphony which uses this tale as its basis.
- 2 Thessalonians 3:10
- "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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