Three children board a ferry to a nearby island—but to pay the fare must answer seven riddles posed by a boatload of strangely familiar creatures.
The first is easy enough—“What do you have to keep when you give it?”—but they get harder. As Anouk, Ben, and Cara fumble toward solutions, the trio of Bears, the Wolf, the Beast, and the other toothy passengers begin to press forward hungrily. “What’s the treasure you can keep and share?” is the seventh riddle, posed by the cowled, skeletally thin Riddlemaster who had led the children aboard. When they correctly answer—“Is it a story?”—they triumphantly debark onto an island of…books, where they are greeted by a host of friends from world literature. Veteran storysmith Crossley-Holland gives the boat a tree of words for a mast and weaves story-related figures and symbols (plus occasional hints for the riddles) into his spare narrative. Jorisch casts the children as ambiguous in age, idiosyncratically Western of dress, and, respectively, Inuit or East Asian, dark-skinned, and light-skinned. He also captures the tale’s atmospherically mysterious tone by filling his scenes with such playful or quirky details as a woman peaceably eating her lunch on a bench of whale (or sea monster) vertebrae, a Beast that could easily double as a Wild Thing, surreal creatures with human faces, and finally an island landscape strewn with letters and enticingly half-open volumes.
A jewel box for lovers of stories, filled with riddles and allusions that will test, but not daunt, even younger readers. (Picture book. 7-9)