The message in Little Red Riding Hood is supposed to be: Don't talk to strangers.
But Culver City school officials have eliminated an illustrated version of the Grimm fairy tale from their fall reading program because they believe that it sends youngsters a very different message: Alcohol will make you feel good.
An adaptation by author Trina Schart Hyman, distributed by Houghton-Mifflin Co., shows a bottle of wine tucked among the goodies Little Red Riding Hood was taking to her ailing grandma. After reviewing the award-winning book from the state-recommended reading list for first-graders, Culver City Unified School District officials concluded that its message conflicted with the anti-drug and -alcohol theme they promote in the classroom.
"We are working very, very hard in the district to give the children a message about the dangers of substance abuse and we didn't feel this book was giving the right message," said Joy Jacobs, a spokeswoman for the Culver City Unified School District.
Most adaptations of the fairy tale call for Little Red Riding Hood to carry cookies or biscuits on her treacherous trek through the woods to Grandma's house. In Hyman's version, the girl's mother gives her a loaf of bread, some butter and a bottle of wine and then tells her daughter:
"I want you to take this loaf of fresh bread, some of this sweet butter, and a bottle of wine to your grandmother. She is sick in bed, and they will do her a world of good."
In another passage, after the wolf is killed by the woodsman, the grandmother and Little Red Riding Hood are seated, eating the contents of the basket.
"The grandmother drank some of he wine and Little Red Riding Hood had a cup of blackberry tea," the book says. "After a while the grandmother felt quite strong and healthy."
In one of the illustrations, the grandmother's face is flush as she sits at a table holding a glass of wine. The bottle is half empty. Little Red Riding Hood is seated next to her sipping her cup of blackberry tea.
"Showing the grandmother who has consumed half a bottle of wine with a red nose is not a lesson we want to teach," Jacobs said.
The Hyman version of the classic is part of a 10-book soft-cover series supplement to a first-grade text. Culver City will continue to use the text and the other supplemental readers.
"We feel it is a very well-told and very beautifully illustrated book," said Sandy Caswell, a spokesman for Houghton-Mifflin Co., in a telephone interview at the publisher's Boston headquarters.
The book, which made the state's recommended supplemental reading list for 5- and 6-year-olds, has done "very well in California," Caswell said, adding that only a school district in Modesto has rejected it. Caswell said he did not know which school districts in the state that use the book.
The book won a Caldecott Medal for illustration in children's books in 1984 and the Golden Kite and Parents' Choice awards for illustration in 1983.
In Culver City, several teachers protested the district's decision by pinning paper cutouts of Red Riding Hood's face to their shoulders.
"It's ridiculous. It's book-banning," said Gina Grawe, a fifth-grade teacher. "Usually books are banned for having obscene things. If this book is banned, what about Tom Sawyer and a few other books? Where does it stop? These books have already been placed on the state-adopted list. They have already been screened by experts."
But School Board President Linda Price disagreed. "The book was not included in the series that was recommended because its message was inconsistent with our program against substance abuse. It says drinking wine (makes) one feel better," she said. "To feel better there are a lot of other things one can do, such as take a walk or go jogging."
Culver City's decision comes at a time when a growing number of school districts are questioning textbooks because of what some local officials and parents deem to be offensive language and images.
"We don't like to see this kind of thing happen, but it is totally within their jurisdiction to (reject the book)," said Susie Lange, official spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.
Lange, who had not read the Little Red Riding Hood text, said educators are stressing that children should read classic fairy tales in their original forms.
"We have asked publishers to submit classics in their original form," she said. "The feeling is that children don't need to have books watered down. That is part of learning literature. The fact that Little Red Riding Hood is taking wine to her grandmother is not going to make someone who reads it an alcoholic."