Chris Riddell is probably the only author-illustrator who straddles so many generations. From books such as The Edge Chronicles for teenagers to the Fergus Crane adventure stories for tweenagers to drawing political cartoons for London-based newspapers such as The Observer and The New Statesman, Riddell has done it all. The Edge Chronicles and Fergus Crane were co-created by Riddell’s good friend, Paul Stewart.
With Ottoline and the Yellow Cat, a delightfully illustrated book for under-10s, Riddell has added another feather to his already-crowded cap. The Kate Greenaway Medal (from the British Library Association), and the Smarties (formerly Nestlé) Gold Award are just some of the trinkets of which Riddell is the proud owner.
Ottoline is a little girl whose house is on the 24th floor of the Pepperpot—so named because of its shape—Building in Big City. She lives with the small, hairy and always-in-need-of-a-good-brush Mr Munroe, who was found by her globetrotting parents in a Norwegian bog. It is Mr Munroe who takes care of Ottoline when her parents are away.
Both friends love a good mystery or puzzle. And when things begin happening in Big City, Ottoline, who loves collecting odd shoes and posters, and Mr Munroe get into the thick of the action. A baffling series of jewel thefts has the townspeople, as well as the police, in a tizzy. And strangely, in each of the houses that has been burgled, the owners’ precious lapdogs, too, have disappeared. For Ottoline, who is a master of disguises (she is a diploma-holder from the Who R U Academy of Subterfuge), this is right up her street. She discovers that the Yellow Cat—and its assistant, a talking cockatoo—are behind the crimes.
But trapping the cat burglar is not as easy as it seems. It needs all of Ottoline and Mr Munroe’s ingenuity and a bit of assistance from the domestic help to think of a way. The friends include a bear, while the domestic “help” includes Marion’s Bathroom Supplies, Smith & Smith, the pillow-plumpers, the Smiling Dragon Clothes and Folding Company, Happy Nest Bed makers, the Home Cooked Meal Co., a cleaning service and the 1,000-strong Light Bulb Changing Co. There is also Mr Munroe, who adopts a clever disguise to get into enemy territory.
Children will enjoy reading how Mr Munroe, who finally gets his Certified Master of Disguise diploma, and Ottoline crack the case, simply because the entire story has been explained with the glorious line drawings that Riddell is so adept at. Stunning full-page illustrations add to the depth. To use a cliché, the pictures are worth millions of words. The end of the book has a pleasant surprise for the reader—a bunch of five fold-out Royal Postcards they can use. Also, watch out for Ottoline’s diary entries and little notes that only a child’s world can conjure up.
Riddell studied at the Brighton (where he lives) Art College. It was there that a London publisher spotted him and commissioned his first book. Riddell’s collaboration with Stewart began after they met at their kids’ school. Their first team effort resulted in the Rabbit and Hedgehog series. Then came the extremely successful Edge Chronicles.
Their Edge Chronicles debuted just when Harry Potter was taking the world by storm. It says much about the duo that they held out and now have a following of their own. Though they got on famously as a team, Riddell did venture alone once in a while. The Emperor of Absurdia, his first solo effort, and this book are some of those rare instances. He promises another Ottoline adventure soon.
The writer is editor of Heek, a children’s magazine. Write to email@example.com