I first saw and read today’s Perfect Picture Book at my local library over a month ago. I confess to finding it puzzling at first (pardon the pun!), but found myself returning to it again and again. I decided to feature it today, Inauguration Day in the US, as changes in administration are often puzzling. Without further ado (or political commentary), I present today’s Perfect Picture Book:
Title: The Riddlemaster
Written By: Kevin Crossley-Holland
Illustrated By: Stéphane Jorisch
Publisher/date: Tradewind Books/2016
Suitable for Ages: 4-9
Themes/Topics: reading, riddles, journey, island
Anouk and Ben and Cara stood on the scribbly tideline and watched waves breaking into blues.
“Blue of blue,” said Anouk.
“Every blue there is,” Ben said.
“Even the ones without names,” added Anouk.
Side by side they stood and stared across the bouncy sea at the little island.
Brief Synopsis: Three children spy a golden island across the sea. An older man offers them passage on a boat filled with animals, but only if they correctly answer seven riddles.
Links to Resources:
- Solve riddles
- Plan a journey on a boat filled with your favorite storybook animals. Who would you invite? Why?
Why I Like this Book:
Reading The Riddlemaster is like reading a long-lost fairytale, complete with a mysterious man who offers to help three young heroes embark on a journey of discovery. As in the classic fairytales, nothing is free: the children must complete a task, in this case correctly answering seven riddles, to obtain the treasure at their destination. That the treasure involves books and reading is a particularly satisfying outcome. The author, Kevin Crossley-Holland, is a well-known author and chronicler of myths and legends, mostly written for middle grade readers and up. Jorisch’s illustrations amplify the sense of being in a far-off land, and he includes multiethnic/multi-racial children. Kids will particularly enjoy trying to identify the animal “characters” who journey on the boat.
A Note about Craft:
The first things that struck me about The Riddlemaster were its title and the cover – with the Master himself in the fore and the three children clearly looking at him. This seemingly breaks a picture book rule, that the children should be the main characters. But, despite the emphasis initially being on the Master, I think the children move the story forward: by desiring to visit the island, by agreeing to the offer, and, most importantly, by answering the riddles. Despite the title, The Riddlemaster is, indeed, a heroes’ journey.
After several readings, I’d also argue that The Riddlemaster is a wonderful example of adding in enough creepiness (I’m not sure I’d join the Master in his boat!) but not too much (the animals lick lips and bare teeth, but they never harm the children nor is it ever stated explicitly that they would do so). That Jorisch illustrates in a Tim Burtonesque style adds to the creepy/not-too-scary feel of this unique picture book.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!