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Jim Harris Talks About Illustrating...

Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood.  Fresh from a swamp near you… with fairytale illustrations from artist Jim Harris.

Petite Rouge

Do you know what Petite Rouge means?

 It’s French for “Little Red,” as in “Little Red … Riding Hood.” 

In the book Petite Rouge, Little Red Riding Hood is a Cajun girl from Louisiana, where lots of people speak French… at least part of the time.

Excuse me, did I say Cajun girl?  I meant… Cajun duck

Here she is,  Petite Rouge herself:

Petite Rouge sketch.  The little duck as she appeared early in the Jim Harris fairytale character development process.

For a while I thought she might look good as a beaver…  but that didn’t quite work.

Petite Rouge as a beaver.  Jim thought this was cute… but not quite right for a Cajun Red Riding Hood fairy tale.

Then I tried a mouse -- which was awfully cute, but didn’t win first prize.

  Miss Mouse (as Little Red Riding Hood).  Jim saved her for another fairy tale… some other day.

Next I tried a raccoon.  That seemed like a good idea… but I changed my mind later.

A Raccoon Grandma.  Expert authorities recommended against a Cajun Coon in a children’s fairytale story.


I thought of using a bear… that REALLY didn’t work.

Little Red Riding Bear?  Nope.  Jim said that didn’t work at all.  She belongs over in the Goldilocks fairytale… and there she shall stay.

Of course, somewhere in there I took a look at a human version of Petite Rouge.  And I actually liked her…

Petite Rouge as a girl.  Jim really, really, really liked this Little Red Riding Hood… but in the end she wasn’t a match for the little Cajun duck.


But in the end Petite Rouge turned out to be a duck. 

Petite Rouge.  The little white duck in her trademark red cape and shell tassel.  A traditional fairy tale character by artist Jim Harris.

Maybe it’s because ducks have a kind of innocent audacity that fits with Mike Artell’s rendition of Little Red Riding Hood.  I mean…  what kind of little girl threatens an alligator with a whack on the noggin and still looks as elegant as a princess?  Well, Petite Rouge can do it. 

Old Claude the gator knows she means it, too…

‘Claude Knows She Means What She Says!’   Claude, dat ‘ol gator, meets a worthy adversary in the Louisiana swamp.  Even the Jim Harris mouse stops nibbling his toadstool and takes note.

Going on Location for Illustration Research

Now I must admit I wasn’t real familiar with Louisiana gators when I first got the manuscript for Petite Rouge.  I grew up in a different part of the South... where the swamps were full of snakes, not gators.   

But that little problem was easily fixed…  with a trip to the bayous of Louisiana.  It was a very interesting trip…  I got lost in a swamp, lost in New Orleans, lost in the airport.  Fortunately, the folks in Louisiana are kind to bungling strangers and pointed me in the right direction almost every time… 


The best part of the trip was learning all about the history of the Cajun people, and looking at old Cajun houses…

A Cajun house with an exterior stairwell. A Cajun house up on bricks. A Cajun house with double doors. A Cajun house with a white picket fence…

...which turned into a perfect mansion in the final art (as you can see below).

Little House on the Bayou.  Petite Rouge’s very own Louisiana home.  Painted from scratch by fairy tale artist Jim Harris.


I also got to see some neat tools like this old sewing machine.

A Cajun sewing machine… from a restored Cajun village… that showed up again in the pages of Petite Rouge.  Cajun ducks love to sew.


and of course, the Cajun version of a canoe… a pirogue.

Cajun pirogues, such as Petite Rouge poled through the Louisiana swamp.


And even a barrel of hot sauce!!!

A barrel of Cajun hot sauce.  Just the right amount of Tabasco for a mean old gator like Claude.


I also got to check out just exactly what an alligator looks like at feeding time.  My tour guide for this little part of the excursion brought along a pan of fresh chicken scraps to toss in the bayou at just the right moment to bring out his trusty alligator friend.  And that seemed to work pretty well, because just at the right moment, THERE HE WAS. YIKES!   My main impression of the entire event was TEETH, which is why Claude looks like he does in the book:

Claude in Grandma’s Nightie.  Another traditional, detailed fairytale character by artist Jim Harris.

So there you have it.  The story behind Petite Rouge. Check it out at your library! 


Buy the book Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood at Amazon.
Buy an original illustration from Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood.
Link to Jim Harris Children’s Books Home Page
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Images and Text © 2009 Jim Harris. All Rights Reserved