This June, one of Britain’s best-loved children’s authors is back with an unusual and intriguing picture book. The Riddlemaster, a story about three friends on a hunt for treasure, comes from the pen of the much-lauded Kevin Crossley-Holland, who is best known for his Arthur trilogy, an imaginative retelling of the King Arthur legends. The trilogy won Crossley-Holland the prestigious Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize as well as a 2000 Whitbread Award nomination, and is widely credited as the inspiration behind the BBC’s hugely popular children’s TV series Merlin. The enormous success of the Arthur trilogy has made Crossley-Holland something of a staple in thousands of households across the country.
In The Riddlemaster, friends Anouk, Ben and Cara dream of treasure that’s buried in the golden island across the harbour. When they are offered passage to the island by a grizzled old man, his offer comes with a catch – they must first answer seven riddles. If they succeed, a strange and magical prize awaits them. It’s a wonderful story, one that, like the Arthur books, showcases the author’s mastery of myth. As The Guardian writes: “Crossley-Holland writes prose with a poet’s eye and a love of words”, something that certainly can be said of The Riddlemaster. The story is accompanied by enchanting illustrations by Stéphane Jorish, one of Canada’s most celebrated illustrators. Here, Jorish’s watercolour drawings illuminate the story so that it won’t be soon forgotten by those who read it.
Crossley-Holland is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and President of the School Library Association. In 1985 he was awarded the Carnegie Medal for his novella Storm. His latest book, Heartstrong, published by Orchard Books in 2015, was reviewed in major publications from the Guardian to the Financial Times. As children’s authors go, they do not come better accredited. Crossley-Holland’s work has pulled in consistent praise for the last two decades, with Helen Dunmore writing in the Observer, “Crossley-Holland uncovers not only words but an entire landscape which haunts and is rich in echoes” and The TLS writing: “Stately or bucolic, heroic or comic, romantic or gross, horrific or gentle, deeply ironic or deeply moving, [Crossley-Holland’s] myths yield up their mood.” The Riddlemaster is already on the radar with reviewers, with Books for Keeps nominating it as its Book of the Week. We can expect this to continue when it hits shelves on 16 June.
- Bill Godber, MD