The children’s laureate is one of those great ideas you can be forgiven for thinking had been around for longer. The brainchild of Ted Hughes and Michael Morpurgo the central idea is simple: A writer or illustrator (or both) who will promote children’s literature, encouraging the love of reading that so enriches life.
The role has been filled by distinguished illustrators and writers of seemingly simple books for preschool children through to works for young adults; poets and novelists. And the position that has been filled by such wonderful advocates for reading, and for sharing, poems and stories as Michael Rosen, Malorie Blackman, Michael Morpurgo, and Julia Donaldson has a wonderful new appointment in Chris Riddell.
I have been to see Riddell on a few occasions with my children at the Edinburgh book festival. He is an engaging presence before an audience of children – warm and witty, he draws, encourages, and tells stories – and one to one, after the events when slightly awestruck children go to ask about Ottoline and Mr Monroe, or Ada Goth, or exactly how infuriating it is to work with writers, Such as the regular butt of his jokes Paul Stewart, he is a delight, patient and taking the time to listen to and speak with even the most tongue tied. he encourages the keen doodlers and putative illustrators.
I had no idea that Riddell wrote and illustrated children’s books when I first encountered his work. as a regular Observer reader I was familiar with his cartoons, but when I encountered the beautifully conceived and illustrated Emperor of Absurdia (a dream scape for young readers, drawing them in to a fabulous story where all the quirks and jumps of Dream logic are explained In a final page that still has my six year old oohing and pointing to show where each idea comes from) realised how fine his work was for the young. They are good for reading aloud too. goth Girl contains a series of literate literary jokes no doubt over the heads of some young readers put there, no doubt, for the author’s amusement initially but mums and dads’ pleasure. But if you want to see the quality of his work try to get hold of the Riddell illustrated Don Quixote, a beautiful abridged version taking what could be an intimidating text and making it accessible, contemporary, and fun.
He’s an excellent choice. Once again, children’s literature and reading is fortunate to have a fine figurehead and advocate.