The Little Red Hen

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Little red Hen.
Golden Book version book cover.
The Little Red Hen, illustrated by Florence White Williams.

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 work ethic and personal initiative.

Role in reading instruction[edit]

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. 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.[citation needed]

Plot summary[edit]

In the tale, the little red hen finds a grain of wheat and asks for help from the other farmyard animals (most adaptations feature three animals, a pig, a cat, and a rat, duck, goose, dog, or goat [1]) to plant it, but none of them volunteer.

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."[2]

In popular culture[edit]

  • A Disney-produced Silly Symphony called The Wise Little Hen uses this tale as its basis. This version features Peter Pig and Donald Duck (in his debut), instead of the cat and the frog from the folk version, as the ones who decline to participate in the preparation of the bread.
  • Revisions of the story include a current political version, based on a Ronald Reagan monologue from 1976.[3] 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.[4]
  • Malvina Reynolds gave a twist to the story by making it a pro-work, anti-shirk socialist anthem.[5]
  • The Little Red Hen was featured in episode 14 of the animated series 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.
  • Jerry Pinkney wrote a children's picture book of The Little Red Hen in 2006.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ (Versions by Frederick Richardson, Golden Book, Jerry Pinckney, Margot Zemach, Florence White Williams)
  2. ^ "2 Thessalonians 3:10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat."". 
  3. ^ "". Archived from the original on February 11, 2011. 
  4. ^ "Little Red Hen ~ The Political Spin ~ Quite Amusing!!!". Retrieved 2011-12-31. 
  5. ^ "The Little Red Hen". 

External links[edit]