Riordan, James 1936-
RIORDAN, James 1936-
PERSONAL: Born October 10, 1936, in Portsmouth, England; son of William (an engineer) and Kathleen (a cleaner; maiden name, Smith) Brown; married Annick Vercaigne, July 4, 1959 (divorced, 1964); married Rashida Davletshina (a teacher), July 1, 1965; children: Tania, Nadine, Sean, Nathalie, Catherine. Education: University of Birmingham, B.S., 1959, Ph.D., 1975; University of London, certificate in education, 1960; University of Moscow, diploma in political science, 1962. Politics: Socialist. Religion: "Faith in people, not gods."
ADDRESSES: Home—Portsmouth, England. Office—Department of Language and International Studies, University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey GU2 5XH, England.
CAREER: Writer and educator. British Railways, Portsmouth, England, clerk, 1956-57; Progress Publisher, Moscow, USSR, senior translator, 1962-65; Portsmouth Polytechnic, Portsmouth, England, lecturer in Russian, 1965-69; University of Bradford, Bradford, England, senior lecturer and reader in Russian studies; University of Surrey, Guildford, England, professor of Russian studies and head of the department. Military service: Royal Air Force, 1954-56, served in Berlin, Germany; British Olympic Attaché at Moscow Olympic Games, 1980.
MEMBER: International Sports History Association (vice president).
AWARDS, HONORS: Kurt Maschler Award runner-up, 1984, for The Woman in the Moon and Other Tales of Forgotten Heroines; NASEN Award and Whitbread Children's Book Award shortlist, both 1998, both for Sweet Clarinet.
(With Eileen H. Colwell) Little Grey Neck, illustrated by Caroline Sharpe, Kestrel, 1975, Addison-Wesley (Reading, MA), 1976.
(Reteller) Beauty and the Beast, illustrated by Annabel Large, Macdonald Educational (London, England), 1979.
(Reteller) Sleeping Beauty, illustrated by Carol Tarrant, Macdonald Educational (London, England), 1979.
The Secret Castle, illustrated by Peter Dennis, Silver Burdett (Morristown, NJ), 1980.
Flight into Danger, illustrated by Gary Rees, Silver Burdett (Morristown, NJ), 1980.
Changing Shapes, Macmillan (London, England), 1982.
The Little Humpback Horse, illustrated by Andrew Skilleter, Hamlyn (London, England), 1983.
(Reteller) The Wild Swans, illustrated by Helen Stratton, Hutchinson (London, England), 1987.
(Reteller) Pinocchio, illustrated by Victor G. Ambrus, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1988.
Babes in the Wood, illustrated by Randolph Caldecott, Hutchinson (London, England), 1988, Barron's Educational (Hauppage, NY), 1989.
(Reteller) The Snowmaiden, illustrated by Stephen Lambert, Hutchinson (London, England), 1990.
(Reteller) Thumbelina, illustrated by Wayne Anderson, Putnam (New York, NY), 1990.
(Reteller) Gulliver's Travels, illustrated by Victor G. Ambrus, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1992.
(Compiler) A Book of Narnians: The Lion, the Witch, and the Others (based on the work of C. S. Lewis), illustrated by Pauline Baynes, Collins (London, England), 1994, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.
My G-r-r-r-reat Uncle Tiger, illustrated by Alex Ayliffe, Peachtree (Atlanta, GA), 1995.
(Reteller) The Barnyard Band: A Story from the Brothers Grimm, illustrated by Charles Fuge, Macmillan (London, England), 1996.
Grace the Pirate, illustrated by Steve Hutton, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1996.
The Twelve Labors of Hercules, illustrated by Christina Balit, Millbrook Press (Brookfield, CT), 1997.
Sweet Clarinet (novel), Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Little Bunny Bobkin, illustrated by Tim Warnes, Little Tiger, 1998.
(Reteller) King Arthur,, illustrated by Victor G. Ambrus, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1998.
(Adaptor) The Coming of Night: A Yoruba Tale fromWest Africa, illustrated by Jenny Stow, Millbrook Press (Brookfield, CT), 1999.
The Story of Martin Luther King (biography), illustrated by Rob McCaig, Smart Apple Media (North Mankato, MN), 2001.
The Story of Nelson Mandela (biography), illustrated by Neil Reed, Smart Apple Media (North Mankato, MN), 2001.
When the Guns Fall Silent (young adult novel), Oxford University Press (London, England), 2001.
War Song (sequel to When the Guns Fall Silent), Oxford University Press (London, England), 2002.
Match of Death, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2002.
Boxcar Molly: A Story from the Great Depression ("Survivors" series), Barron's Educational (Hauppage, NY), 2002.
The Enemy: A Story from World War II ("Survivors" series), Barron's Educational (Hauppage, NY), 2002.
(Reteller) Charles Dickens, Great Expectations, illustrated by Victor G. Ambrus, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2002.
COLLECTIONS FOR CHILDREN
(Adapter and translator) The Mistress of the Copper Mountain: Tales from the Urals, Muller, 1974.
Tales from Central Russia: Russian Tales, Volume I, illustrated by Krystyna Turska, Kestrel (New York, NY), 1976.
Tales from Tartary: Russian Tales, Volume II, illustrated by Anthony Colbert, Kestrel (New York, NY), 1978.
A World of Fairy Tales, Hamlyn (London, England), 1981.
A World of Folktales, Hamlyn (London, England), 1981.
Tales of King Arthur, illustrated by Victor G. Ambrus, Rand-McNally (Chicago, IL), 1982.
Tales from the Arabian Nights, illustrated by Victor G. Ambrus, Hamlyn (London, England), 1983, Rand-McNally (Chicago, IL), 1995.
The Boy Who Turned into a Goat, illustrated by I. Ripley, Macmillan (London, England), 1983.
Petrushka and Other Tales from the Ballet, Stodder & Houghton (London, England), 1984.
Stories of the Ballet, illustrated by Victor G. Ambrus, foreword by Rudolf Nureyev, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1984, published as Favorite Stories of the Ballet, Rand-McNally (Chicago, IL), 1984.
(Translator) The Twelve Months: Fairy Tales by SovietWriters, illustrated by Fyodor Lemkul, Raduga (Moscow, USSR), 1984.
The Woman in the Moon, and Other Tales of Forgotten Heroines, illustrated by Angela Barrett, Hutchinson (London, England), 1984, Dial (New York, NY), 1985.
A World of Myths and Legends, Hamlyn (London, England), 1985.
(Translator) Yefim Drutëtìs and Alexei Gessler, collectors, Russian Gypsy Tales, Canongate (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1986, Interlink Books (New York, NY), 1992.
(Reteller) Korean Folk-Tales, Oxford University Press, 1994 (New York, NY).
(With Brenda Ralph Lewis) An Illustrated Treasury ofMyths and Legends, illustrated by Victor G. Ambrus, Hamlyn (London, England), 1987, Peter Bedrick Books (New York, NY), 1991.
(Collector and translator) The Sun Maiden and the Crescent Moon: Siberian Folk Tales, Canongate (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1991.
(Editor) A Treasury of Irish Stories, illustrated by Ian Newsham, Kingfisher (New York, NY), 1995.
Stories from the Sea, illustrated by Amanda Hall, Abbeville Press (New York, NY), 1996.
(Editor) The Songs My Paddle Sings: Native American Legends, illustrated by Michael Foreman, Trafalgar (New York, NY), 1996.
(Editor) Young Oxford Book of Football Stories, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1999.
(Editor) Young Oxford Book of Sports Stories, Oxford University Press, 2000.
(Editor) Young Oxford Book of War Stories, Oxford University Press, 2000.
Russian Folk-Tales, illustrated by Andrew Breakspeare, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2000.
The Storytelling Star: Tales of the Sun, Moon, and Stars, illustrated by Amanda Hall, Trafalgar Square (New York, NY), 2000.
Sport in Soviet Society: Development of Sport and Physical Education in Russia and the USSR, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1977.
(Editor) Sport under Communism: The USSR, Czechoslovakia, the G.D.R., China, Cuba, C. Hurst (London, England), 1978, revised second edition, 1981.
Soviet Sport: Background to the Olympics, Washington Mews Books (New York, NY) 1980.
(Adapter) George Morey, Soviet Union: The Land and Its People, MacDonald Educational (London, England), 1986, Silver Burdett Press (Morristown, NJ), 1987.
Eastern Europe: The Lands and Their Peoples, Silver Burdett Press (Morristown, NJ), 1987.
(Editor) Soviet Education: The Gifted and the Handicapped, Routledge (London, England), 1988.
(Editor) Soviet Youth Culture, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1989.
Sport, Politics, and Communism, Manchester University Press (New York, NY), 1991.
(Editor and translator, with Susan Bridger) Dear Comrade Editor: Readers' Letters to the Soviet Press under Perestroika, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1992.
(Editor) Soviet Social Reality in the Mirror of Glasnost, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1992.
(With Victor Peppard) Playing Politics: Soviet Sport Diplomacy to 1992, JAI Press (Greenwich, CT), 1993.
(Editor, with Igor S. Kon) Sex and Russian Society, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1993, revised as The Sexual Revolution in Russia: From the Age of the Czars to Today, Free Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States, Silver Burdett Press (Morristown, NJ), 1993.
(Editor, with Petar-Emil Mitev) Europe, the Young, the Balkans (conference proceedings), International Centre for Minority Studies and Intercultural Relations (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1996.
(Editor, with Arnd Krüger) The Story of Worker Sport, Human Kinetics (Champaign, IL), 1996.
(Editor, translator, and contributor) Olga Litvinenko, collector, Memories of the Dispossessed: Descendants of Kulak Families Tell Their Stories, Bramcote Press (Nottingham, England), 1998.
(Editor, with Pierre Arnaud) Sport and International Politics: The Impact of Fascism and Communism on Sport, E. & F. Spon (New York, NY), 1998.
Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States, Silver Burdett Press (Morristown, NJ), 1999.
(Editor, with Robin Jones) Sport and Physical Education in China, Routledge (New York, NY), 1999
(Editor, with Arnd Krüger) The International Politics of Sport in the Twentieth Century, Routledge (New York, NY), 1999.
SIDELIGHTS: British author and educator James Riordan, an expert in Russian language, folklore, and culture, has made a contribution to children's literature by translating and retelling folktales from Eastern Europe and Asia. From Russia, he brings young readers The Three Magic Gifts and The Snowmaiden, as well as many shorter folktales included in the collections Tales from Tartary and Russian Folk-Tales. Presenting each tale with what a Publishers Weekly reviewer characterized as "a storyteller's bravado," Riordan has also mined other regions of the world for traditional tales, which have been published in such books as A Treasury of Irish Stories, Korean Folk-Tales, and The Woman in the Moon, and Other Tales of Forgotten Heroines. In more recent years he has also begun to publish original works, including picture books such as Little Bunny Bobkin and novels for older readers that focus on World War II.
Born in 1936, Riordan spent his early childhood in Portsmouth, England. During World War II he was sent to live with his grandparents, an experience that proved influential. As he once recalled to CA: "The household was big, twelve adults and me, very warm and friendly. Amid the doodle-bugs and air-raid sirens (Portsmouth was blown to bits), the all-pervasive tang of soot in mouth and nose, and the massive picture of Lord Kitchener dominating our living room, my lasting attitudes of faith in ordinary people and hatred of war were being formed."
After finishing school Riordan "became successively a barman, a cratestacker in a brewery, commercial salesman (of 'unbreakable tea sets'), double-bass player in a dance band, postman, railway clerk and junior technician in the Royal Air Force." Determined to gain an education, he took classes at the universities of Birmingham, London, and Moscow, and "travelled and worked in various countries," including France, Germany, and the former Soviet Union. Spending five years in the USSR, Riordan gained a good understanding of both Russia's language and people. Beginning his teaching career in England in 1965, he worked as a lecturer in Russian at Portsmouth Polytechnic, and eventually worked his way up to professor of Russian studies at Guildford University.
Riordan published his first folk-story adaptations in 1975. Little Grey Neck: A Russian Folktale, a collaboration between Riordan and Eileen Colwell, is about a little duck with an injured wing. The duck, who cannot migrate with the other ducks as winter approaches, worries that she will be eaten by a fox. Instead, she is rescued by a man who brings her home for a pet.
Little Grey Neck marked the beginning of what has become a prolific career as a children's writer for Riordan, and among his many works have been retellings of traditional Russian tales. The Three Magic Gifts, described by a critic for Junior Bookshelf as an "excellent folktale," recounts the fate of an impoverished, good brother—Ivan the Poor—and a wealthy, bad one—Ivan the Rich. A Booklist contributor noted that "Riordan spices the text with brief verses," and in Publishers Weekly a reviewer maintained that The Three Magic Gifts "should entrance little readers." The Snowmaiden, a retelling described by a Junior Bookshelf contributor as "highly charged," tells the story of the daughter of the Spring and Frost. She has been living with peasants for sixteen years, hidden from the god of the sun and keeping warmth from the land. When the Snowmaiden leaves the peasants who have raised her, spring returns to the earth. The Snowmaiden then finds herself loved by a shepherd boy. Disappointed because she lacks a heart and cannot love him back, she begs for one. After she gains the ability to love the shepherd, the Snowmaiden remains too long in the sun; she melts away, and flowers grow on the spot where she once stood.
In Tales from Central Russia Riordan presents traditional Russian stories, his translations and retellings presented with "flavor and directness," in the opinion of Horn Book contributor Virginia Haviland. Praising the book's accessibility to children, a critic for Junior Bookshelf commented, "Here's treasure." Tales from Tartary is the product of months spent at the homes of friends and relatives of Riordan's Tartar wife, Rashida. Influenced by Asian culture, these tales come from Tartarstan, Siberia, and the Crimea, and show what a Junior Librarian contributor called Riordan's "deep respect for the traditions" of the Tartar people. A more broad-ranging collection, Russian Folk-Tales features ten stories than include "The Firebird" and a Baba Yaga tale as well as some more unfamiliar to Western readers. Noting that Riordan makes his selections carefully, School Library Journal contributor Denise Anton Wright noted that the stories included in Russian Folk-Tales "emphasize family relationships, clever main characters, magical gifts, and punishment for evil," and the authors retellings "beg to be shared aloud."
Riordan has not limited himself to collecting and retelling the stories of former Soviet societies. The Songs My Paddle Sings: Native American Legends contains twenty stories collected during Riordan's trip across the United States and present the myths of the Apache, Blackfoot, Pueblo, and Salish, among others, all told in "stately language eminently suited to reading aloud," according to a Kirkus Reviews critic. Korean Folk-Tales provides twenty stories from Korea, and, in the words of a critic for Junior Bookshelf, provides "riches . . . for the oral storyteller." These stories are, in the words of School Library Journal contributor Diane S. Marton, "for the most part clearly and pleasantly told." The Boy Who Turned into a Goat contains six stories from different cultures written with "freshness and vitality," as a Junior Bookshelf reviewer remarked. A World of Fairy Tales contains stories from Australia, China, Africa, India, Russia, North and South America, and Europe. The Coming of Night: A Yoruba Tale from West Africa provides a fanciful explanation of how night was first created, and draws readers back to a time when the sun never set. According to the story—"written in a style rich with descriptive language and images" according to School Library Journal contributor Paul Kelsey—when a powerful chief named Oduduwa marries the daughter of the river goddess, his young bride leaves the water-bound home where Night dwells, but soon tires of the perpetual daylight. Her husband commands some animals to fetch Night from the river and bring it to his wife, but to be sure Night is kept in a sack as it will otherwise cause mischief. True to folktale form, the animals succumb to curiosity, open the sack, and release Night to overshadow a portion of each day.
In addition to collecting, translating, and retelling folk-tales, Riordan has made other contributions to children's literature. Tales from the Arabian Nights presents readers with a children's classic, retold in Riordan's own words with "sympathy and dramatic flair," according to a Booklist critic. The Twelve Laborsof Hercules starts with the ancient hero's birth and goes on to tell how he incurred the wrath of the jealous goddess Hera, and how Hera caused him to go mad and kill his family, causing the labors meted out as his punishment. In Riordan's retelling, which is punctuated by what School Librarian reviewer Mary Medlicott described as "occasional touches of humor," Hercules's "personality comes through, especially his impulsiveness," according to School Library Journal contributor Pam Gosner. In King Arthur, Riordan presents an account of the famous king in a style that Voice of Youth Advocates contributor Rebecca Barnhouse characterized as "formal and distant, as befits a legend." Citing Riordan's effective mix of myth and history—he includes notes on the origins of the Arthur myth—Hazel Towson praised the retelling for being "well researched" and "lucidly told." A Book of Narnians: The Lion, the Witch and the Others is a compilation which allows readers unfamiliar with the famous books of C. S. Lewis to get to know the series characters. "The words are largely Lewis's own, though plucked selectively," noted School Library Journal contributor Nancy Palmer, who added that the "selection is skillfully done."
Riordan's original fiction includes several diverse works. In Flight into Danger, a pair of twins takes a harrowing plane ride with their father, who falls ill during the flight. The Secret Castle follows the story of a boy and a girl who travel back in time to the Middle Ages, where they lead the lives of lord and lady. The picture book Little Bunny Bobkin appeals to the very young, as it presents simple counting through the experiences of a young rabbit. After no one in the family burrow wants to help him practice counting, little Bobkin wanders out into the forest, where a group of hungry foxes seem only too happy to humor the tasty bunny. Riordan has also contributed two original stories—Boxcar Molly: A Story from the Great Depression and The Enemy: A Story from World War II—to Barron's "Survivors" series for preteen readers.
World Wars I and II have figured not only in The Enemy but in several other works by Riordan, who himself has memories of the World War II years. He includes excerpts from poems, diaries, and fiction about war in his edited anthology The Young Oxford Book of War Stories, which also covers the Vietnam conflict in what School Librarian contributor Janet Fisher described as a "sombre tone" in keeping with the book's subject matter. The 1998 novel Sweet Clarinet introduces readers to Billy Riley, an English boy who is touched personally by World War II when he is disfigured by burns after German bombs hit an air-raid shelter and his mother is killed. Sent to a children's hospital, the orphaned Billy withdraws until he meets an injured soldier whose gift to the lonely boy—a clarinet—allows Billy to express his sadness and put his bitterness behind him. Praising Riordan for his use of accurate period detail, Sandra Bennett added in her School Librarian review of Sweet Clarinet that within Riordan's "simply told" story the young teen's "isolation and unhappiness are convincingly portrayed."
When the Guns Fall Silent and War Song are linking novels that focus on World War I. In When the Guns Fall Silent Jack Loveless is forced to relive his memories of the Great War during a trip with his grandson to France's war cemeteries. Noting that Riordan "is good at showing the dreadful chauvinism" that existed in Great Britain toward those of German heritage during the war years, Dennis Hamley noted in School Librarian that When the Guns Fall Silent is "a necessary, powerful, outspoken but ultimately healing book" that brings to life for modern readers the true horrors and disillusionment caused by war. Calling Riordan's text "as jagged and staccato as a fusillade" a Books for Keeps contributor also praised the book for recapturing the emotions visited upon Jack as a naive sixteen-year-old volunteer of the Great War. Equally poignant reading is War Song, which follows two sisters who, left at home, determine to help the war effort through working as a nurse and in a munitions factory. Noting the tension built up through the novel as the young women witness the tragedies visited upon friends and their own families, Eileen Armstrong praised War Song in her School Librarian review as a "compelling" and "accessible but uncomfortable, make-you-stop-and-think story that should not be missed."
Riordan credits his five children for helping him ensure that his stories and story collections are appropriate for ethnically diverse children, whether they are boys or girls. He explained to CA, "I love children and test all my stories out on them before producing a final version; so I have to keep producing more children to keep up with my writing. My own multi-ethnic family (parts English/Irish/Tartar/Bashkir) is a useful touchstone for all my stories. And since I only have one son, I make sure that at least half the stories in all my collections are about girls (most folk and fairy tales have exclusively male heroes)."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, July 15, 1979, review of Tales from Tartary, p. 1629; March 1, 1981, review of The Three Magic Gifts, pp. 967-68; December 15, 1985, review of Tales from the Arabian Nights, p. 630; March 15, 1991, pp. 1494-1495; March 15, 1998, Karen Hutt, review of The Song My Paddle Sings, p. 1242; October 1, 1998, Carolyn Phelan, review of King Arthur, p. 330; February 15, 1999, Ilene Cooper, review of The Coming of Night: A Yoruba Tale from West Africa, p. 1072; April 1, 2001, Carolyn Phelan, review of Russian Folk-Tales, p. 1463.
Books for Keeps, March, 2001, George Hunt, review of When the Guns Fall Silent, p. 25.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, February, 1983, p. 116; December, 1985, review of The Woman in the Moon and Other Tales of Forgotten Heroines, p. 76.
Horn Book, August, 1979, Virginia Haviland, review of Tales from Central Russia and Tales from Tartary, pp. 430-431.
Junior Bookshelf, February, 1977, review of Tales from Central Russia, pp. 24-25; December, 1978, review of Tales from Tartary, p. 320; April, 1981, review of The Three Magic Gifts, p. 60; December, 1982, review of A World of Fairy Tales, p. 226; October, 1983, review of The Boy Who Turned into a Goat, p. 210; February, 1985, review of The Woman in the Moon, p. 30; August, 1990, review of The Snowmaiden, p. 164; December, 1992, review of Gulliver's Travels, p. 262; February, 1995, review of Korean Folk-Tales, p. 43.
Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 1998, review of The Song My Paddle Sings, p. 273.
Library Journal, July, 1991, p. 106.
Magpies, March, 1993, review of Gulliver's Travels, p. 23.
New York Times Book Review, March 9, 1986, p. 37.
Publishers Weekly, December 12, 1980, review of The Three Magic Gifts; December 21, 1998, review of Little Bunny Bobkin, p. 66; March 19, 2001, review of Russian Folk-Tales, p. 101; November 4, 2002, review of Boxcar Molly: A Story from the Great Depression, p. 85.
School Librarian, spring, 1998, Mary Medlicott, review of The Twelve Labours of Hercules, p. 36; autumn, 1998, Hazel Towson, review of King Arthur, p. 148; spring, 1999, Sandra Bennett, review of Sweet Clarinet, pp. 47-48; spring, 2001, Dennis Harnley, review of When the Guns Fall Silent, p. 49; autumn, 2001, Janet Fisher, review of The Oxford Book of War Stories, p. 159; winter, 2001, Eileen Armstrong, review of War Song, p. 214.
School Library Journal, April, 1987, p. 89; June, 1991, p. 89; March, 1995, Diane S. Marton, review of Korean Folk-Tales, p. 218; October, 1995, Nancy Palmer, review of A Book of Narnians, pp. 148-149; February, 1998, Pam Gosner, review of The Twelve Labors of Hercules, pp. 122, 124; May, 1998, Lisa Mitten, review of The Song My Paddle Sings, p. 136; October, 1998, Carolyn Jenks, review of Little Bunny Bobkin, p. 112; April, 1999, Helen Gregory, review of King Arthur, p. 154; May, 1999, Paul Kelsey, review of The Coming of Night, p. 112; November, 2000, Nancy A. Gifford, review of The Storytelling Star, p. 148; July, 2001, Denise Anton Wright, review of Russian Folk-Tales, pp. 97-98; October, 2002, Patricia D. Lothrop, review of Great Expectations, p. 170.
Times Educational Supplement, November 5, 1999, "After the Fire," p. 11; April 20, 2001, review of The Oxford Book of War Stories, p. 20.
Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 1998, Rebecca Barnhouse, review of King Arthur, p. 368.*