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Chris Riddell

A photograph of Chris Riddell's face, smiling
Riddell in 2010
Born (1962-04-13) 13 April 1962 (age 60)
Cape Town, South Africa
Occupation Illustrator, author, political cartoonist
Nationality British
Alma mater Brighton Polytechnic
Genre Children's
Spouse Joanne Burroughes
Children 3

Chris Riddell OBE (/rɪdˈɛl/ RID-el) (born 13 April 1962) is a South African-born British illustrator and occasional writer of children's books and a political cartoonist for the Observer. He has won three Kate Greenaway Medals - the British librarians' annual award for the best-illustrated children's book, and two of his works were commended runners-up, a distinction dropped after 2002.

Books that he wrote or illustrated have won three Nestlé Smarties Book Prizes and have been silver or bronze runners-up four times. On 9 June 2015, he was appointed the UK Children's Laureate.


Chris Riddell was born in 1962 in Cape Town, South Africa, where his father was a "liberal Anglican vicar" and was opposed to the system of apartheid. The family returned to Britain when Chris was one year old, where he spent the rest of his childhood with his sister and three brothers, who now live in South Africa, Brighton, and Egypt. He attended Archbishop Tenison's Grammar School in Kennington. Chris displayed artistic talent from an early age and was encouraged in this by his mother. (She gave him paper and pen to keep quiet during his father's sermons.) As a child, he admired the work of Sir John Tenniel, the first illustrator of Alice in Wonderland, and W. Heath Robinson. At Brighton Polytechnic, he studied illustration; one teacher was Raymond Briggs, an earlier winner of two Greenaway Medals.

Riddell worked as an illustrator at The Economist beginning in the 1980s and at the Observer starting in 1995.

In 2002, he named as influences Tenniel and E. H. Shepard, the first illustrator of The Wind in the Willows and Winnie the Pooh.

As of 2019, Riddell and his wife, Joanne Burroughes, an illustrator and print-maker, live in Brighton with three children. They also have a second home in rural Norfolk where Joanne is from. Daughter Katy Riddell is also a children's book illustrator, including of Pongwiffy by Kaye Umansky.

His brother Rick Riddell, a secondary teacher at the Alice Smith School, died in February 2012.


The Edge Chronicles

Some of Riddell's most notable work is The Edge Chronicles (from 1998), a children's book series cowritten with Paul Stewart and illustrated by Riddell alone. Set in the fictional world known as "The Edge", the books have been praised for Chris's beautifully detailed line drawings and the unique nature of their collaborative writing process.

Other works

For his illustrations, Riddell was a commended runner-up for the 1994 Kate Greenaway Medal (Something Else by Kathryn Cave) and highly commended for 1999 (Castle Diary by Richard Platt).

He won the 2001 Medal for illustrating Pirate Diary: The Journal of Jake Carpenter by Platt. The press release called Pirate Diary the first "information book" to win the Medal since 1975 and "a fictionalised account" when he spoke with author Richard Platt the harsh necessities of historical accuracy came into play. 'Everything I got excited about got shot down. No parrots, eye-patches or wooden legs. Thank god there were weapons and amputations!' (quoting Riddell). (After Castle Diary and Pirate Diary, Platt continued the Diary series with illustrator David Parkins.)

Three years later, Riddell won the Greenaway again, this time for his work on Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver" (Walker, 2004), retold by Martin Jenkins from the 1726 classic Gulliver's Travels. The panel chair commented, "Gulliver is a tour de force. Chris Riddell has given us 144 pages of fantastic, faultless illustrations, which constantly extend the power of the text. Our winning title also proves that today's picture books are not just for the youngest age-groups, but are [also] an important source of pleasure and learning for readers of all ages." (The 2001 and 2004 panels recommended Pirate Diary and Gulliver for readers age 8+ and 10+, while their recommendations for thirteen other shortlisted books ranged from 2+ to 7+.)

Other books illustrated by Chris Riddell include Fergus Crane, Corby Flood, and Hugo Pepper, all set in the same world. These books were also co-written with Paul Stewart. Stewart and Riddell also collaborated with him on Muddle Earth and the Barnaby Grimes series. Most recently, Riddell has both written and illustrated the Ottoline series, written while he was on holiday visiting his brother in Malaysia. The first book, Ottoline and the Yellow Cat (2007), won the final Smarties Prize in age category 6–8 years (the Smarties were discontinued in 2008). It has been followed by Ottoline Goes to School and Ottoline at Sea.

Beside writing and illustrating books, Riddell is an acclaimed political cartoonist for the Observer newspaper in London, where his caricatures of politicians from John Major to Gordon Brown, Bill Clinton to George W. Bush, have earned him a reputation as a fine draughtsman and acute commentator on the political scene. Before working at the Observer, Chris spent time working at the Economist as an illustrator and occasional cover artist.

Chris Riddell is the cover artist for the Literary Review magazine formerly edited by Auberon Waugh, a role he took over from the late Willie Rushton. Chris's serial gag cartoon for this magazine, called "Illustration to Unwritten Books", was published in book form as The Da Vinci Cod and Other Illustrations to Unwritten Books.

In November 2017, Riddell publicly accused department store chain John Lewis of plagiarizing elements of his 1986 picture book Mr Underbed for their Christmas advert "Moz the Monster". The chain defended the allegations, noting that the concept of a monster who lived under a child's bed was a common literary trope, and that both works had dissimilar plots. The row led to renewed interest in the book, with copies quickly selling out from stores.

Selected works

As author and illustrator

  • Ben and the Bear (1986)
  • Mr Underbed (1986)
  • Bird's New Shoes (1987)
  • The Fibbs (1987)
  • The Trouble With Elephants (1988)
  • The Wish Factory (1988)
  • When the Walrus Comes (1989)
  • The Bear Dance (1990)
  • The Wonderful World of Zoom (1995)
  • Puzzle Boy (1996)
  • My Busy Book (1998)
  • Tribal Politics (1999)
  • The Da Vinci Cod (2005)
  • The Emperor of Absurdia (2006)
  • Wendel's Workshop (2007)
  • Chris Riddell's Doodle-a-Day (2015)
  • 100 Hugs (2017)
  • Travels with My Sketchbook (2017)
  • Once Upon A Wild Wood (2018)
  • Timorous Beasts (2021)
  • Humphrey:
    • Humphrey the Hippo (1986)
    • Humphrey of the Rovers (1986)
    • Humphrey Goes to the Ball (1986)
    • Humphrey's New Trousers (1986)
  • Platypus:
    • Platypus (2001)
    • Platypus and the Lucky Day (2002)
    • Platypus and the Birthday Party (2003)
  • Ottoline:
  • Alienography:
    • Alienography or How to spot an alien and what to do about it (2010)
    • Alienography – Tips for Tiny Tyrants (2012)
  • Goth Girl:
    • Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse (2013)
    • Goth Girl and the Fete Worse than Death (2014)
    • Goth Girl and the Wuthering Fright (2015)
    • Goth Girl and the Pirate Queen (2015 World Book Day edition)
    • Goth Girl and the Sinister Symphony (2017)
  • The Sleep Of Reason:
    • The Sleep Of Reason Volume I (2019)
    • The Sleep Of Reason Volume II (2020)
    • The Sleep Of Reason Volume III (2021)
  • The Cloud Horse Chronicles:
    • Guardians of Magic (2019)
    • Tiggy Thistle and the Lost Guardians (2022)
  • Five Years... A Sketchbook of Political Drawings:
    • Five Years... A Sketchbook of Political Drawings - Volume One 2020 (2021)
    • Five Years... A Sketchbook of Political Drawings - Volume Two 2021 (2022)

As illustrator

Riddell has collaborated with Paul Stewart on dozens of books, including the Edge Chronicles series. He has also illustrated several books written by each of five other authors.

written by other authors

Awards and recognitions

Some of these awards and related honours may have recognised the writers of books Riddell illustrated. The three Greenaway Medals, two commendations, and three shortlists recognised Riddell as illustrator.

Runners-up, etc.
  • 1994 Something Else by Cave was commended for the Greenaway Medal.
  • 1999 Castle Diary by Platt was highly commended for the Greenaway Medal.
  • 2002 Pirate Diary by Platt was Smarties silver runner-up (ages 6–8).
  • 2005 Corby Flood by Stewart was Smarties bronze runner-up (ages 6–8).
  • 2006 Hugo Pepper by Stewart was Smarties silver runner-up (ages 6–8).
  • 2006 The Emperor of Absurdia, written and illustrated by Riddell, was Smarties silver runner-up (ages 0–5).
  • 2007 The Emperor of Absurdia made the Greenaway shortlist.
  • 2008 Ottoline and the Yellow Cat, written and illustrated by Riddell, made the Greenaway shortlist.
  • 2008 Wendel's Workshop, written and illustrated by Riddell, made the Booktrust Early Years Award shortlist.
  • 2010 The Graveyard Book, written by Neil Gaiman, made the Greenaway shortlist in its Children's Edition illustrated by Riddell. (Gaiman won the companion Carnegie Medal).
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