cover image The House with No Door: African Riddle-Poems

The House with No Door: African Riddle-Poems

Brian Swann. Harcourt Children's Books, $16 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-15-200805-5

Like his earlier Touching the Distance: Native American Riddle-Poems, these original, laconic verses are based on Swann's collection of riddles, but this time they hail from Africa. One of the more successful riddles, ""I have a house/ that has no door,"" begins the volume; Bryan's (The Story of the Three Kingdoms) illustration opens up the possibilities of a solution by showing animals and birds dwelling in the trunk of a tree, a lion in a nearby den and the riddle's answer: an egg in a treetop nest. Another example, among the most striking of the spreads, is a landscape of mountain goats (""The white goats/ are drifting/ down/ from the mountain"") paired with a dazzling kaleidoscope of jewel-like snowflakes. Author and illustrator encourage readers to find numerous answers to the more open-ended riddles. Despite Bryan's brilliantly evocative watercolors, too many of the riddles seem beyond the reach of the target audience. Even when superimposed over a painting of two children standing before a stream, the answer to the riddle ""I stepped on it./ It stepped on me,"" (""water"") may elude and perhaps even frustrate some children. At times, the paintings themselves add confusion to the search for possible solutions: (e.g., the riddle about camouflage, ""The spots are leaving./ They are going into hiding,"" shows two nearly identical paintings of a giraffe, deer, leopard and snake, in which the spots are equally visible, not at all hidden). If Swann's riddles were less tersely ambiguous and Bryan's paintings less visually complex, perhaps young readers would be better able to guess the answers without turning to the answer key at the end of the book. Ages 4-7. (Oct.)