________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 5. . . .October 7, 2016


The Riddle Horse.

Mark Summers.
Mankato, MN: Creative Editions (Distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books), 2016.
32 pp., hardcover, $26.50.
ISBN 978-1-56846-291-2.

Grades 1-3 / Ages 6-8.

Review by Christina Quintiliani.

*** /4



The Riddle Horse is a unique and engaging children’s picture book by well-renowned illustrator Mark Summers whose artwork of famous figures has graced the pages of such prominent magazines as Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone and has been featured on United States postage stamps. Summers’ distinctive illustrative style, which has earned him the prestigious Society of Illustrator’s Hamilton King Award for best illustration of the year in 2000, shines through in The Riddle Horse, providing an intricate, visual originality that is rarely observed in literature for children. At the story’s commencement, a question is presented which serves as the main riddle to be solved: “What horse am I?”. During the course of the book, readers are introduced to a string of clues through illustrations of horses and accompanying text written in a riddle-like format.

I have chased a swan for almost 100 years – and still have not caught it.
Then again, a lion has been chasing me for just as long, and I always escape.
What horse am I?

     Summers offers a pleasant array of illustrations with some depicting famous political and historical figures on horses and others taking on a more mythical tone. Horses are also presented without rider, which cleverly adds complexity to the mystery of the riddle. Summers’ use of scratchboard, a complex medium which is seldom applied in picture books, is an aesthetic treat for the eyes, and younger audiences will undoubtedly be intrigued by its distinguishing, pixel-like appearance. While some illustrations are framed with borders, others remain borderless and bleed into the utmost edges of the page. This contrast in presentation is a delightful touch which allows the eye to move effortlessly between the pictures.

      By the end of the story, the riddle’s solution is revealed - that the mysterious animal is indeed a carousel horse who instantly becomes anything the rider imagines it to be. Regrettably, since the dust jacket offers an illustration of a solo carousel horse, the solution is clearly revealed to the observant reader well before the story officially begins. An alternative cover may have been beneficial in keeping this critical clue hidden until the final pages of the book.

      The format of The Riddle Horse encourages children to engage in ongoing inference making, an essential early literacy skill which educators will enjoy helping students promote via the story’s content. It is important to note that prior knowledge of some of the historical figures mentioned in the book, including Teddy Roosevelt, Tom Mix, Zorro, and Dale Evans, is needed before more advanced inferencing can take place. Endnotes that provide adults with a brief overview of these notable individuals would have been a positive addition to help support the necessary discussions that would assist children in fully comprehending all aspects of the story, including its historical references.

      The Riddle Horse will unquestionably appeal to horse lovers of all ages and will serve as an enjoyable read for younger audiences who enjoy the quest of an intriguing riddle. A magical representation of the limitless potentials of the imagination.


Christina Quintiliani is an Ontario Certified Teacher and Ph.D. Candidate at the Faculty of Education, Brock University, St. Catharines, ON., where she is researching children’s literature.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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