The Little Red Hen

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A simple line drawing with a hen surrounded by chicks on the left and a laughing cat with a frilly collar on the right. The text "The Little Red Hen" is in the center in red.
The Little Red Hen, 1918 title page
An illustrated hen wearing a shirt and hat uses a shovel to dig a hole.
Golden Book version book cover
An illustrated red hen stands in front of a fence, holds an umbrella, and leans to the left.
The Little Red Hen, illustrated by Florence White Williams

The Little Red Hen is an old folk tale of the fable type. 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 literacy. 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]


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 they all refuse.

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 doesn't receive any help.

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 to join her, but she refuses them, stating that no one helped her with her work. Thus, the hen eats it with her chicks, leaving none for anyone else.

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.
  • Willie Dixon wrote a blues called Little Red Rooster, where the lazy rooster is the opposite of the industrious hen: "I am the little red rooster, Too lazy to crow for day"
  • Politically-themed revisions of the story include a conservative version, based on a Ronald Reagan monologue from 1976.[2] 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.[3] An alternate version reimagines the tale as a satire on capitalism, with the hen promising slices of bread in return for work, but keeping the largest share for herself despite doing none of the work.[4] Malvina Reynolds gave a twist to the story by making it a pro-work, anti-shirk socialist anthem, with the worker hen retaining all the fruits of her labor: "And that's why they called her Red."[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's retelling in picture-book form The Little Red Hen was published in 2006.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ (Versions by Frederick Richardson, Golden Book, Jerry Pinckney, Margot Zemach, Florence White Williams)
  2. ^ "". Archived from the original on February 11, 2011.
  3. ^ "Little Red Hen ~ The Political Spin ~ Quite Amusing!!!". Retrieved 2011-12-31.
  4. ^ "Little Red Hen", Kingdom Watcher
  5. ^ "The Little Red Hen".

External links[edit]