Kevin Crossley-Holland (1941–) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
(Kevin John William Crossley-Holland)
Born 1941, in Mursley, Buckinghamshire, England; (third marriage) Oenone, Eleanor. Education: St. Edmund Hall, Oxford, M.A. (with honors), 1962. Hobbies and other interests: Music, archaeology, travel, walking, wine, the company of friends.
Office—Clare Cottage, Burnham Market, Norfolk PE31 8HE, England. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Orion Publishing Group, Orion House, 5 Upper Saint Martin's Lane, London WC2H 9EA, England.
Writer and translator. Macmillan & Co. (publishers), London, England, editor, 1962–69; Victor Gollancz Ltd. (publisher), London, editorial director, 1972–77; Boydell & Brewer (publisher), Woodbridge, Suffolk, England, editorial consultant, 1983–91. Tufts-in-London program, lecturer in English, 1967–78; University of Leeds, Gregory fellow in poetry, 1969–72; University of Regensburg, English lecturer, 1978–80; Winchester School of Art, Arts Council fellow in writing, 1983–84; St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN, visiting professor of English and Fulbright scholar-in-residence, 1987–88; St. Thomas College, MN, professor and endowed chair of humanities, 1991–95; visiting lecturer for British Council in Germany, Iceland, India, Slovakia, and Yugoslavia. BBC, London, talks producer, 1972; contributor to radio, television, and musical works.
Eastern Arts Association (chairman, literature panel, 1986–89), Friends of Wingfield College (trustee and chairman, 1989–), Royal Society of Literature (fellow), Poetry-next-the-Sea (cofounder and chair, 1997–).
Arts Council awards for best book for children, 1968, for The Green Children, 1977, and 1978; poetry award, 1972, for The Rain-Giver; Poetry Book Society Choice, 1976, for The Dream-House; Francis Williams Award, 1977, for The Wildman; Carnegie Medal, 1985, for Storm; Nestlé Smarties Prize bronze medal, Youth Libraries Group, 2000, and Guardian Award for Children's Fiction, and Tir na n-Og Award, Welsh Books Council, both 2001, all for Arthur: The Seeing Stone; St. Edmund Hall, Oxford, honorary fellow.
FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADULTS
Havelok the Dane, illustrated by Brian Wildsmith, Macmillan (London, England), 1964, Dutton (New York, NY), 1965.
Kinq Horn, illustrated by Charles Keeping, Macmillan (London, England), 1965, Dutton (New York, NY), 1966.
(Reteller) The Green Children (also see below), illustrated by Margaret Gordon, Macmillan (London, England), 1966, Seabury Press (New York, NY), 1968, revised edition, illustrated by Alan Marks, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1994.
(Editor) Winter's Tales for Children: No. 3, Macmillan (London, England), 1967, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1968.
(Reteller) The Callow Pit Coffer, illustrated by Margaret Gordon, Macmillan (London, England), 1968, Seabury Press (New York, NY), 1969.
(With Jill Paton Walsh) Wordhoard: Anglo-Saxon Stories, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1969.
(Translator) Storm and Other Old English Riddles (verse), illustrated by Miles Thistlethwaite, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1970.
(Reteller) The Pedlar of Swaffham, illustrated by Margaret Gordon, Macmillan (London, England), 1971, Seabury Press (New York, NY), 1972.
The Sea-Stranger (first volume of "Wulf" series), illustrated by Joanna Troughton, Heinemann (London, England), 1973, Seabury Press (New York, NY), 1974.
The Fire-Brother (second volume of "Wulf" series), illustrated by Joanna Troughton, Seabury Press (New York, NY), 1975.
Green Blades Rising: The Anglo-Saxons, Deutsch (London, England), 1975, Seabury Press (New York, NY), 1976.
The Earth-Father (third volume of "Wulf" series), illustrated by Joanna Troughton, Heinemann (London, England), 1976.
The Wildman (also see below), illustrated by Charles Keeping, Deutsch (London, England), 1976.
(Editor) The Faber Book of Northern Legends, illustrated by Alan Howard, Faber (London, England), 1977.
(Editor) The Faber Book of Northern Folk-Tales, illustrated by Alan Howard, Faber (London, England), 1980.
(Editor) The Riddle Book, illustrated by Bernard Handelsman, Macmillan (London, England), 1982.
(Reteller) The Dead Moon and Other Tales from East Anglia and the Fen Country, illustrated by Shirley Felts, Deutsch (London, England), 1982.
(Reteller) Beowulf, illustrated by Charles Keeping, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1982, reprinted, 1999.
(Reteller with Gwyn Thomas) Tales from the Mabinogion, illustrated by Margaret Jones, Gollancz (London, England), 1984, Overlook Press (New York, NY), 1985.
(Reteller) Axe-Age, Wolf-Age: A Selection from the Norse Myths, illustrated by Hannah Firmin, Deutsch (London, England), 1985.
Storm, illustrated by Alan Marks, Heinemann (London, England), 1985, Barron's (Hauppage, NY), 1989.
(Reteller) The Fox and the Cat: Animal Tales from Grimm, illustrated by Susan Varley, Andersen Press (London, England), 1985, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1986.
(Reteller) Northern Lights: Legends, Sagas, and Folk-Tales, illustrated by Alan Howard, Faber (London, England), 1987.
(Reteller) British Folk Tales: New Versions, Orchard (New York, NY), 1987, published in four volumes as Boo!, Dathera Dad, Piper and Pooka, and Small-Tooth Dog, illustrated by Peter Melnyczuk, Orchard (London, England), 1988.
(Reteller with Gwyn Thomas) The Quest for Olwen, illustrated by Margaret Jones, Lutterworth Press (Cambridge, England), 1988.
(Reteller) Wulf, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1988.
(Reteller) Under the Sun and over the Moon (poetry), illustrated by Ian Penney, Putnam (New York, NY), 1989.
(Reteller) Sleeping Nanna, illustrated by Peter Melnyczuk, Orchard (London, England), 1989, Ideals (New York, NY), 1990.
(Reteller) Sea Tongue, illustrated by Clare Challice, BBC/Longman (London, England), 1991.
(Reteller) Tales from Europe, BBC (London, England), 1991.
(Reteller with Gwyn Thomas) The Tale of Taliesin, illustrated by Margaret Jones, Gollancz (London, England), 1992.
(Reteller) Long Tom and the Dead Hand, illustrated by Shirley Felts, Deutsch (London, England), 1992.
The Labours of Herakles, illustrated by Peter Utton, Orion (London, England), 1993.
(Reteller) The Old Stories: Folk Tales from East Anglia and the Fen Country, illustrated by John Lawrence, Colt (Cambridge, England), 1997.
Short! A Book of Very Short Stories, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1998.
The King Who Was and Will Be: The World of King Arthur and His Knights, illustrated by Peter Malone, Orion (London, England), 1998, published as The World of King Arthur and His Court: People, Places, Legend, and Lore, Dutton (New York, NY), 1999.
(Editor) Young Oxford Book of Folk Tales, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1998.
(Reteller) Enchantment: Fairy Tales, Ghost Stories, and Tales of Wonder, illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark, Allen & Unwin (London, England), 2000.
Arthur: The Seeing Stone (first volume of "Arthur Trilogy"), Orion (London, England), 2000, Arthur A. Levine (New York, NY), 2001.
(Reteller) Hans Christian Andersen, The Ugly Duckling, illustrated by Meilo So, Knopf (New York, NY), 2001.
Arthur: At the Crossing-Places, (second volume of "Arthur Trilogy"), Orion (London, England), 2001, Arthur A. Levine (New York, NY), 2002.
The Magic Lands, Orion (London, England), 2001.
King of the Middle March (third volume of "Arthur Trilogy"), Orion (London, England), 2003, Arthur A. Levine (New York, NY), 2004.
How Many Miles to Bethlehem?, illustrated by Peter Malone, Arthur A. Levine (New York, NY), 2004.
(Editor and author of foreword) Once upon a Poem: Favorite Poems That Tell Stories, illustrated by Peter Bailey and others, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2004.
POETRY; FOR ADULTS
On Approval, Outposts (London, England), 1961.
My Son, Turret (London, England), 1966.
Alderney: The Nunnery, Turret (London, England), 1968.
Confessional, Sceptre Press (Frensham, Surrey, England), 1969.
Norfolk Poems, Academy (London, England), 1970.
A Dream of a Meeting, Sceptre Press (Frensham, Surrey, England), 1970.
More than I Am, Steam Press (London, England), 1971.
The Wake, Keepsake Press (Richmond, Surrey, England), 1972.
The Rain-Giver, Deutsch (London, England), 1972.
Petal and Stone, Sceptre Press (Knotting, Bedfordshire, England), 1975.
The Dream-House, Deutsch (London, England), 1976.
Between My Father and My Son, Black Willow Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1982.
Time's Oriel, Hutchinson (London, England), 1983.
Waterslain and Other Poems, Hutchinson (London, England), 1986.
The Painting-Room and Other Poems, Hutchinson (London, England), 1988.
East Anglian Poems, Jardine (Colchester, England), 1988.
Oenone in January, Old Stile Press (Llandogo, Wales), 1988.
New and Selected Poems: 1965–1990, Hutchinson (London, England), 1990.
Eleanor's Advent, Old Stile Press (Llandogo, Wales), 1992.
The Language of Yes, Enitharmon (London, England), 1996.
Poems from East Anglia, Enitharmon (London, England), 1997.
Selected Poems, Enitharmon (London, England), 2001.
EDITOR; FOR ADULTS
Running to Paradise: An Introductory Selection of the Poems of W.B. Yeats, Macmillan (London, England), 1967, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1968.
Winter's Tales 14, Macmillan (London, England), 1968.
(With Patricia Beer) New Poetry 2, Arts Council of Great Britain (London, England), 1976.
The Norse Myths: A Retelling, Deutsch (London, England), 1981, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1982.
(And translator) The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology, Boydell Press (Woodbridge, Suffolk), 1982, Barnes & Noble (New York, NY), 1983, reprinted, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Folk Tales of the British Isles, Folio Society (London, England), 1985, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1988.
The Oxford Book of Travel Verse, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1986.
Medieval Lovers: A Book of Days, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (New York, NY), 1988.
Medieval Gardens: A Book of Days, Rizzoli (New York, NY), 1990.
(Editor, with Lawrence Sail) The New Exeter Book of Riddles, illustrated by Simon Drew, Enitharmon (London, England), 1999.
General editor, "Mirror of Britain" series, Deutsch (London, England), 1975–80.
TRANSLATOR; FOR ADULTS
Bruce Mitchell, editor, The Battle of Maldon and Other Old English Poems, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1965.
Beowulf, Farrar Straus (New York, NY), 1968, published with The Fight at Finnsburh, edited by Heather o'Donoghue, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1999.
The Exeter Riddle Book, Folio Society (London, England), 1978, revised as The Exeter Book of Riddles, Penguin (London, England), 1979, revised edition, Penguin (New York, NY) 1993.
The Wanderer, Jardine (Colchester, England), 1986.
The Old English Elegies, Folio Society (London, England), 1988.
Pieces of Land: Journeys to Eight Islands, Gollancz (London, England), 1972.
The Stones Remain: Megalithic Sites of Britain, photographs by Andrew Rafferty, Rider (London, England), 1989.
(Author of libretto) The Green Children (two-act opera; based on his work of the same title), music by Nicola LeFanu, Novello (London, England), 1990.
(Author of libretto) The Wildman (opera; based on his work of the same title), Boydell & Brewer (Woodbridge, England), 1995.
Different—but Oh How Like! (booklet), Daylight Press (London, England), 1998.
Contributor to periodicals, including Books for Your Children.
Crossley-Holland's poetry notebooks are housed in the Brotherton Collection, University of Leeds; manuscripts for children's books are housed at the Lillian H. Smith and Osborne Collections, Toronto Public Library, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and the Brotherton Collection, University of Leeds; the Kerlan Collection, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, houses material relating to Under the Sun and over the Moon.
Crossley-Holland's Exeter Book of Riddles was adapted as the musical work Riddles: For Six Solo Voices, SATB Chorus, Bells, and Piano by William Mathias, 1991.
A poet. translator, and editor, Kevin Crossley-Holland is an acknowledged authority on European history and literature. However, the British writer is most familiar to younger readers for his retellings of British and Norse folktales, as well as for his well-received translations of the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf and historical fiction such as his "Wulf" and "Arthur" novel trilogies. Praised for his preservation of traditional literature, as well as for his ability to bring the past to life for modern readers, Crossley-Holland has often referred to the folk tales, legends, and poetry of the Anglo-Saxons as the main influences on his work. Marcus Crouch, writing in the Junior Bookshelf, called Crossley-Holland a "leading interpreter of the Dark Ages and an eloquent writer too."
As a writer for children and young people, Crossley-Holland draws upon sources similar to those that inform his literature for adults. Most of his books for the young are retellings; for example, he has produced volumes taken from Norse and Greek myths and medieval romances, as well as from the folktales of East Anglia. In addition, he has collaborated with Gwyn Thomas on retellings of the Mabinogion, a Welsh cycle of hero tales, and with Susanne Lugert on a collection of animal stories originally written by the Brothers Grimm. While he has been consistently praised for these retellings, Crossley-Holland is also well regarded for his historical fiction. His "Wulf" trilogy of young-adult novels—The Sea Stranger, The Fire-Brother, and The Earth-Father—describe how an artistic, fatherless boy in seventh-century England becomes a monk after he gets to know the Northumbrian missionary Cedd, a real figure who brought Christianity to the East Saxons. Taking place in the thirteenth century, the "Arthur" trilogy follows young Arthur de Caldicot who, bearing the name of the famous king, leads a parallel life in which he encounters Merlin, trains as a squire, and joins Lord Stephen on a crusade to the Holy Land, all the while following the stories of the ancient king and his knights of the Round Table via a seeing stone given him by Merlin. Storm, Crossley-Holland's Carnegie Medalwinning story for younger readers, features a young girl who saves the life of her older sister with the help of a farmer's ghost.
Born in Mursley, Buckinghamshire, England, Crossley-Holland grew up in an intellectual family heavily involved in music and the arts. In addition to music, the Crossley-Holland household was filled with stories, and at bedtime his father, musicologist Peter Crossley-Holland, "sometimes came with his Welsh harp and sat by our bunk beds, and said-and-sang (as the Anglo-Saxons called it) folktales," as the author recalled in Something about the Author Autobiography Series (SAAS). "In the gloom," he added, "I saw pookas and pipers, changelings, and the Banshee, dark horsemen, Tam Lin, and (my father's favourite), the bewitching lady who walked out of the lake up the mountain of Fan Fach. I haven't the slightest doubt that the seeds of my lifelong interest in folktale, legend, and myth were sown there, in the blue hour between day and night, waking and sleep."
As a boy, Crossley-Holland often accompanied his father on walking tours of archeological sites. "[F]rom that day to this," the author wrote, "I don't suppose I've walked past a molehill without kicking it over." Father and son found several artifacts from the Iron Age and medieval times, including two pieces of a Romano-British cooking pot that fit together. When they discovered a Roman coin with the head of the emperor Constantine on it, Crossley-Holland recalled, "I was electrified…. That was the place and moment at which I was first fully conscious of the presence of the past: that mysterious, challenging, enriching, shared dimension which has underpinned so much of my writing for adults and children." At the age of nine the boy became something of an expert; a letter he submitted on the subject of ancient coins was printed in the London Times, and the makeshift "museum" he created in a small garden shed to house all of his treasures actually attracted visitors. Crossley-Holland's mother, meanwhile, arranged dancing, riding, golf, and cricket lessons and also paid for instruction in tennis.
Crossley-Holland went to Swanbourne House, a preparatory boarding school, at the age of nine and a half. At Swanbourne, a Latin teacher, "Floppy" Wright, inspired the young student in a lifelong interest in Romance languages. Although not an avid reader, Crossley-Holland was also inspired by the book Our Island Story, an account of key episodes in British history. "Fired by this patriotic and highly coloured book, and nothing if not ambitious, I decided at the age of eleven to embark on a major literary enterprise of my own," he recalled in SAAS, "a History of the World which, somewhat later, and rather reluctantly, I scaled down to a History of Britain! I resumed work at the beginning of each holiday, and managed quite a number of chapters before eventually losing heart." At age fourteen he decided to become a priest, a vocation that he sustained until he entered Oxford University.
At Oxford University Crossley-Holland studied English literature, and became drawn to old Anglo-Saxon poems like Beowulf and The Battle of Maldon, works he would eventually retell or translate. He also wrote poetry, and published his first book, the short pamphlet On Approval, in 1961. He supplemented his academic experiences with travel, and at age seventeen hitchhiked through Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland; before he was twenty, he had visited nearly every country in western Europe. Crossley-Holland would eventually travel India and Russia, lived and worked in Bavaria, and spent five years in Minnesota.
In 1962 Crossley-Holland graduated from Oxford with a B.A. with honors. His first job was in the publicity department of the London publishing house of Macmillan, and he stayed with the company for nine years, eventually rising to the position of editor. He also became associated with "The Group," a gathering of English poets—Martin Bell, Peter Porter, Alan Brownjohn, Fleur Adcock, George MacBeth, and others—who met regularly to discuss each other's work. In 1963, Crossley-Holland married his first wife, Caroline Fendall Thompson, with whom he would have two sons, Kieran and Dominic. The following year he produced his first book for children and young people, the retelling Havelok the Dane, and embarked on his new career: author.
Havelok the Dane was inspired by a Middle English romance that captured Crossley-Holland's attention. In his retelling, young Havelok, the rightful king of Denmark, is forced to flee his homeland to escape death at the hand of his evil regent, Lord Godard. Havelok goes to England, where he meets Princess Goldborough, the rightful queen of England; like Havelok, the princess has been deposed by her regent. Forced to marry as an indignity, Havelok and Goldborough fall in love and set about regaining their respective thrones. Havelok returns to Denmark and defeats Godard; he then returns to England and reinstates Goldborough. The king and queen live alternate years in Denmark and England and have fifteen children. Praising the illustrations by Brian Wildsmith, Ethna Sheehan observed in the New York Times Book Review that Crossley-Holland retells Havelok the Dane "with drama, horror, and fun," bringing to the fore "Havelok's likable personality and Goldborough's spirited nature." Writing in Horn Book. Ethel L. Heins concluded that "this is a tale of ambition, bloody murder, loyalty, love, and the triumph of freedom over tyranny … retold … in a colorful, vigorous manner."
Havelok the Dane was followed by other books about the Anglo-Saxon world. Wordhoard: Anglo-Saxon Stories, written with Jill Paton Walsh, paints a vivid picture of that ancient culture, while Tales from the Mabinogion, The Quest for Olwen, and The Tale of Taliesin, the last co-authored with Gwyn Thomas, are simple, lyrical retellings of Welsh hero tales. The Dead Moon collects ghostly tales inhabited by bogarts, will-o'-the-wykes, witches, dead hands, and green children, woven into tales salted with a hint of East Anglian dialect. Several of the stories included in his anthologies, such as those in The Dead Moon and British Folk Tales: New Versions, have been more recently reissued as picture books. One of these retellings, published as Small-Tooth Dog, recounts the story of a curious dog who saves the life of a man only to demand the man's only daughter as payment.
A major focus of Crossley-Holland's young adult-work has been the folktales of his native East Anglia, England. The Green Children, a retelling of a twelfth-century English legend, is one of his best known works for the young. In this book, Crossley-Holland describes how two siblings, a boy and a girl with green skin, are found in a chalk pit. The children do not speak English, eat only green vegetables, and are blinded by the sun. The boy dies of homesickness, but the girl adapts to her new life and learns to speak; she is able to tell the tale of how she and her brother strayed from their subterranean world. Although the girl gradually turns fairer and even marries, she never stops looking for the entrance to her lost home. As a testament to Crossley-Holland's ability to bring these age-old stories to life, Charles Causley commented in Twentieth-Century Children's Writers that in The Green Children "mind and imagination are continuously stimulated and fed as the tales are resolved."
Other books that draw from Anglo-Saxon history include Green Blades Rising: The Anglo-Saxons, an informational book for young adults that describes the daily lives, beliefs, practices, art, and literature of the culture, as well as its influence on modern times. The Wildman, a retelling of an East Anglian story, is considered among Crossley-Holland's most memorable—and disturbing—works. The Wildman of the title is a merman who tells of his capture, imprisonment, and torture during the reign of England's King Henry II. Through the narrator's eyes, readers learn his impressions of human behavior. Finally, the Wildman becomes alienated from life on sea as well as on land. while Nicholas Tucker, reviewing The Wildman for the Times Literary Supplement, questioned the book's appeal to children, Junior Bookshelf critic Marcus Crouch cited it as "a most moving experience" for readers young and old, while Donna R. White wrote in the Dictionary of Literary Biography that the book "is a moody, evocative piece, both haunting and sad." Crossley-Holland also wrote the libretto for an operatic version of The Wildman by Nicola LeFanu, which premiered at the Aldeburgh Festival in 1995.
In 1972, Crossley-Holland produced the first of his "Wulf" series of historical novels. The first of a trilogy set in Northumberland in eastern England during the seventh century, The Sea Stranger centers on Wulf, a boy who is more interested in making carvings in wood and bone than he is in battles. When Cedd, a Christian missionary, spends the night with the boy's family, Wulf is intrigued by the charismatic man and his message. Cedd leaves, but returns in the spring to build a cathedral on land granted by King Ethelwald. At the end of the novel, Wulf is baptized, becomes Cedd's student, and decides to join his teacher's order of monks. As A.R. Williams wrote in Junior Bookshelf, the novel fo-cuses on "the attitudes of contemporary rulers and their subjects to the largely welcome ideas of Christianity." Writing in Horn Book, Paul Heins noted that "Wulf, the other members of his family, and Cedd are well-drawn, and the simple narrative is rich with historical, literary, and archeological details."
The second volume of the series, The Fire-Brother, takes place a year after the conclusion of The Sea Stranger. When their harvest is bad, some of the farmers blame the Christian monks for convincing them not to sacrifice to their traditional goddess, Freya. In retaliation, Wulf's brother Oswald sets the monastery on fire before running away. Wulf, who is torn between the love for his family and his devotion to Cedd's teachings, is sent by Cedd—now a bishop—to find Oswald with a message of forgiveness and a plea to return home. In Horn Book, Heins noted that in this novel Crossley-Holland maintains "a nice balance … between the presentation of the purposeful, hopeful activities of monastic life and worship and the labors and tribulations of primitive land-cultivators." The final volume of the trilogy, The Earth-Father, finds Wulf the sole survivor after a plague kills all of the brothers in his monastery. In an attempt to reunite with Cedd, Wulf travels to the bishop's side, risking disease himself. Cedd and Wulf are finally reunited; after Cedd's death, Wulf resolves to carry on the older man's work. In 1988 Crossley-Holland rewrote the "Wulf" trilogy and published it in a single volume, Wulf.
With his interest in ancient British literature, it was only natural that Crossley-Holland eventually bring his attention to one of the most classic pieces of Anglo-Saxon writing. In addition to producing a complete translation of Beowulf for adults, he has also created a picture-book version of the poem for older children. Illustrated by noted artist Charles Keeping, the story outlines how Beowulf the Geat travels to Denmark to destroy the evil monster Grendel, who has been harassing his father's friends. After Beowulf kills Grendel, the monster's mother, an old sea-wolf, seeks revenge. Beowulf kills her and takes her head back to the king of the Danes. He rules over the Geats for fifty years and dies while courageously fighting a dragon; after his death, Beowulf is celebrated by his subjects. Although the retelling is considered especially graphic, it has been credited with making the legend understandable to modern children due to Crossley-Holland's strong prose and use of modern idioms. Margery Fisher, writing in Growing Point, calling Beowulf "a remarkable new presentation of a hero-tale basic to our culture," while in School Library Journal Bonnie Saunders concluded that Crossley-Holland's "retelling of the classic epic maintains much of the ancient storytelling tradition in its richly tapestried prose."
Many of Crossley-Holland's books are geared for young children and beginning readers. The picture book The Labours of Herakles recounts the twelve labors performed by the Greek hero for the king of Argos, while in The Ugly Duckling Crossley-Holland retells Hans Christian Andersen's classic tale in an abridged text that was judged "sprightlier than the original" by Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper. One of the author's most popular stories for elementary-aged readers is Storm. This story (not to be confused with Crossley-Holland's riddle book of the same name) features a girl named Annie, who lives with her family in an isolated part of the East Anglian marsh. When her pregnant older sister goes into labor during a bad storm, it is up to Annie to help her. While Annie is apprehensive about fetching help because of the ghost rider who haunts her village, she conquers her fears and heads into the storm. Fortunately, she meets a silent man on horseback who helps her get to the home of the village doctor, and when she attempts to thank this good Samaritan it turns out that the fellow may not have been human after all. Writing in the Junior Bookshelf, A.R. Williams commented that "a great deal of convincing drama is packed into so few pages without limiting character to cardboard cut-out." Storm was awarded the Carnegie Medal in 1985.
Crossley-Holland has mined more than Anglo-Saxon lore in his story collections, and books such as Folk Tales of the British Isles established him as an authority in the myths and legends of the many people who have inhabited the British Isles. British Folk Tales: New Versions draws fifty-five stories and ballads from that work and presents them in versions compelling to modern children. The book includes hero tales, ghost stories, trickster tales, and works featuring fairies, goblins, selkies, and other supernatural creatures that have long inhabited the imagination of the residents of England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. Familiar favorites such as "Jack and the Beanstalk," "Goldilocks and the Three Bears," and "Tam Lin" appear alongside tales and verse that are less well known. Avoiding a strict retelling, Crossley-Holland plays with his original sources, combining some tales and reframing others, shifting points of view, and turning narratives into poems. Calling the author "a fine story-teller with a poet's ear," Jennifer Westwood wrote in the Times Literary Supplement that British Folk Tales "is the most representative by a modern reteller." Writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Betsy Hearne noted that, "in its revealing and revitalizing of the traditional," the book "makes a long-lasting contribution to readers and storytellers alike." Viewing British Folk Tales as one of the major accomplishments of his career, Crossley-Holland has adapted several of the tales as picture books illustrated by Peter Melnyczuk.
The legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table figure prominently in Crossley-Holland's work. His The King Who Was and Will Be: The World of King Arthur and His Court—published in the United States as The World of King Arthur and His Court: People, Places, Legend, and Lore—contains not only stories of Arthur, Lancelot, Merlin, and Guinevere but also what Carolyn Phelan described in Booklist as "a veritable collage of materials related to King Arthur." Containing a wealth of facts, quotes from Chaucer and other ancient texts, maps of Briton, and discussions of heraldry, jousting, castle life, art, and other aspects of everyday life during the time of Camelot, the beautifully illustrated volume "will delight young readers with a taste for history," according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. "If ever a book could ignite a passion for Camelot," the reviewer concluded of The World of King Arthur and His Court, "this is it."
The golden age of Camelot is also the focus of The Seeing Stone, At the Crossing-Places, and King of the Middle March, which together comprise Crossley-Holland's "Arthur" trilogy. These novels focus on the life of the legendary king by linking it with that of twelve-year-old Arthur de Caldicot, who lives, in the twelfth century, hundreds of years after Arthur's death. The two stories—the trials of an ancient king and the coming of age of a young man—reflect each other, beginning with Arthur de Caldicot's receipt of a gift: a mysterious piece of black obsidian given him by an old friend of his father named Merlin. The Seeing Stone won several awards, including Great Britain's Guardian Children's Award for Fiction in 2001.
The Seeing Stone takes place in 1199, and the next two novels in the trilogy follow Arthur to 1203, when he has reached eighteen. At the Crossing Places finds the now-fourteen year old determined to make a new life for himself after discovering that his real parents are not the honorable folk who have raised him. Taken on as a squire by Lord Stephen de Holt, Arthur gains in experience through his training as well as through the visions from the seeing stone, and soon finds himself on his way to Jerusalem. As he follows his dream of joining his lord on a holy crusade, his actions are paralleled by the stone's revelations about the ancient knights' quest for the Holy Grail. While several critics noted that the volume does not stand well on its own, Horn Book contributor Joanna Rudge Long noted that Crossley-Holland "once again evokes a rich and credible panoply and circumstances and characters"; while "much is left open," the sequel will make clear "the true design of this absorbing and carefully wrought trilogy."
Concluding the "Arthur" trilogy, King of the Middle March does indeed reveal the "true design" of Crossley-Holland's epic tale. Arthur and Lord Stephen are by now in Venice where, with thousands of other Christian knights from throughout Europe, they yearn to travel to Jerusalem to capture the holy city. However, in exchange for the money to buy ships to transport them, these knights become mercenaries for a local monarch, and ravage the city of Zara, Christian killing Christian. As the Crusades dissolve into brutal bloodshed and greed the stone reveals the tragic end of King Arthur's own history, and "the questions … [Arthur de Caldicot] raises about religion, morality, and war resonate," both in his world and that of the ancient king, as well as "in our own," as Phelan noted in Booklist. "Superb writing, prodigious research, [and] a wealth of detail" characterize the entire trilogy, noted a Kirkus Reviews writer, while in Horn Book Martha V. Parravano called King of the Middle March "a novel of extraordinary richness, packed with event and color and texture."
Crossley-Holland's many books reflect his abiding interests: the sea, Anglo-Saxons, and East Anglia. Asked to describe the basis of his work, he once commented that it was lodged in "roots, the sense of past embodied in present, [and] the relationship of person to place." While he has also published poetry and other works for adults, and has served as a university professor, librettist, translator, radio and television commentator, and editor, it has been his work for children that many view as his greatest accomplishment.
Biographical and Critical Sources
Children's Literature Review, Volume 47, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998, pp. 18-50.
De Montreville, Doris, and Elizabeth D. Crawford, editors, Fourth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators, H.W. Wilson (Bronx, NY), 1979.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 40: Poets of Great Britain and Ireland since 1940, 1985, Volume 161: British Children's Writers since 1960, 1996, pp. 103-108.
St. James Guide to Young-Adult Writers, 2nd edition, edited by Tom Pendergast and Sara Pendergast, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999, pp. 34-36.
Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Volume 30, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1995, pp. 125-140.
Twentieth-Century Children's Writers, 3rd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1989.
Best Sellers, May, 1976, Mary Columba, review of Green Blades Rising: The Anglo-Saxons, p. 60.
Booklist, May 15, 1999, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of The Young Oxford Book of Folk Tales, p. 1694; November 15, 1999, Carolyn Phelan, review of The World of King Arthur and His Court, p. 617; July, 2001, Ilene Cooper, review of The Ugly Duckling, p. 2012; November, 1, 2002, Carolyn Phelan, review of At the Crossing Places, p. 494; September 1, 2004, Carolyn Phelan, review of King of the Middle March, p. 122; October 1, 2004, Carolyn Phelan, review of How Many Miles to Bethlehem?, p. 331.
Books for Keeps, November, 1990, Kevin Crossley-Holland, "Restraints and Possibilities," pp. 18-19; November, 1997, p. 24.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, January, 1988, Betsy Hearne, review of British Folk Tales: New Versions, pp. 86-87; February, 2005, Timnah Card, review of King of the Middle March, p. 248.
Children's Literature, Volume 3, 1974, Alexander Taylor, review of Storm, pp. 199-200.
Encounter, September, 1971, Elizabeth Maslen, "Riddles," pp. 81-82.
Folklore, April, 2000, Ruth Glass, review of Different—but Oh How Like!, p. 146.
Growing Point, November, 1966, Margery Fisher, review of The Green Children, p. 791; January, 1983, Margery Fisher, review of Beowulf, pp. 3998-3999; March, 1989, Margery Fisher, review of Wulf, p. 5116.
Guardian (London, England), September 29, 2001, Claire Armitstead, interview with Crossley-Holland.
Horn Book, February, 1966, Ethel L. Heins, review of Havelok the Dane, p. 51; December, 1969, Paul Heins, review of Wordhoard: Anglo-Saxon Stories, p. 680; June, 1974, Paul Heins, review of The Sea Stranger, pp. 280-281; December, 1975, Paul Heins, review of The Fire-Brother, p. 591; November-December, 2002, Joanna Rudge Long, review of At the Crossing Places, p. 752; November-December, 2004, Jennifer M. Brabander, review of How Many Miles to Bethlehem?, p. 658; January-February, 2005, Martha V. Parravano, review of King of the Middle March, p. 91.
Junior Bookshelf, November, 1964, review of Havelok the Dane, pp. 307-308; October, 1969, review of Wordhoard: Anglo-Saxon Stories, p. 321; April, 1974, A.R. Williams, review of The Sea Stranger, p. 110; March, 1977, Marcus Crouch, review of The Wildman, p. 39; April, 1983, G. Bott, review of Beowulf; December, 1984, Marcus Crouch, review of Tales from the Mabinogion, p. 359; December, 1988, D.A. Young, review of Wulf, pp. 288-89; October, 1985, A.R. Williams, review of Storm, p. 215.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 1976, review of Green Blades Rising, p. 140; September 1, 2002, review of At the Crossing Places, p. 1307; September 15, 2004, review of King of the Middle March, p. 912; November 1, 2004, review of How Many Miles to Bethlehem?, p. 1048; December15, 2004, review of Once upon a Poem, p. 1199.
Kliatt, November, 2002, Claire Rosser, review of At the Crossing Places, p. 6; September, 2004, Janis Flint-Ferguson, review of King of the Middle March, p. 6.
Listener, November 14, 1968.
Magpies, July, 1991, Kevin Crossley-Holland, "The Flying Word, the Word of Life: Approaches to Norse Myth and British Folktale, Pt. II"; March, 1999, p. 44.
New Leader, May 4, 1987, Phoebe Pettingell, review of The Oxford Book of Travel Verse, p. 9.
New York Times Book Review, November 14, 1965, Ethna Sheehan, review of Havelok the Dane, pp. 66-67; May 5, 1968, Alice Low, review of The Green Children, p. 47.
Observer Review (London, England), February 26, 1970.
Publishers Weekly, October 18, 1999, review of The World of King Arthur and His Court, p. 85; November 1, 1999, p. 58; July 16, 2001, review of The Ugly Duckling, p. 180; September 27, 2004, review of How Many Miles to Bethlehem?, p. 62.
Punch, October 23, 1968.
Saturday Review, March 15, 1969.
School Librarian, spring, 1998, pp. 23-24; autumn, 1998, p. 136.
School Library Journal, February, 1970, Bruce L. MacDuffie, review of Wordhoard: Anglo-Saxon Stories, pp. 91-92; April, 1985, Bonnie Saunders, review of Beowulf, pp. 84-85; April, 1991, Ruth K. MacDonald, review of Sleeping Nanna, p. 91; October, 1999, Grace Oliff, review of The Young Oxford Book of Folk Tales, p. 166; January, 2000, Connie C. Rockman, review of The World of King Arthur and His Court, p. 140; April, 2003, Cindy Lombardo, review of At the Crossing Places, p. 89; November, 2004, Cheri Dobbs, review of King of the Middle March, p. 139; January, 2005, Cris Riedel, review of Once upon a Poem: Favorite Poems That Tell a Story, p. 108.
Spectator, December 10, 1988, Juliet Townsend, review of Wulf, pp. 37-38.
Teacher Librarian, June, 2000, Jessica Higgs, review of The King Who Was and Will Be, p. 54.
Times Educational Supplement, January 19, 1990, John Mole, review of Under the Sun and over the Moon, p. 29; November 29, 1991, James Riordan, review of Tales from Europe, p. 27; May 15, 1992, James Riordan, review of Long Tom and the Dead Hand, p. S13; May 29, 1992, Gillian Clarke, review of The Tale of Taliesin, p. 30; November 12, 1993, Charles Causley, review of The Labours of Herakles, p. R2; March 24, 1994, John Mole, review of The Green Children, p. R7.
Times Literary Supplement, December 10, 1976, Nicholas Tucker, "A Picture of Ugliness," p. 1550; November 13-18, 1987, Jennifer Westwood, "Tales within Tales," p. 1264; December 16-22, 1988, Heather O'Donoghue, "Actually Anglo-Saxon," p. 1406; March 30, 1990, Gerald Mangan, review of Under the Sun and over the Moon, p. 356; June 21, 1991, Virginia Rounding, New and Selected Poems, p. 18.
Young Reader's Review, January, 1967; June, 1968; October, 1969.
Achuka Web site, http://www.achuka.co.uk/ (August 29, 2001), "Kevin Crossley-Holland."
Allen & Unwin Web site, http://www.allenandunwin.com/ (August 29, 2001), "Kevin Crossley-Holland."
- Gillian Cross (1945–) Biography - Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
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