When kids are looking for a good entertaining story – maybe something fun to read over a holiday break – I often suggest a novel by the English author Eva Ibbotson. Ibbotson, who as the Guardian wrote in their obituary this week, made “the magical tangible,” died on October 20 at the age of 85. She was the author of more than twenty books for children and young adults, many of them prize winners.
I have not read all of her novels so perhaps my list will be different five years from now, but if your child is new to Ibbotson, here are the three I recommend. The summaries are excerpts from School Library Journal reviews.
Island of the Aunts – “It isn’t easy taking care of an entire island and its needy, sometimes magical inhabitants and visitors, so the caregivers, Aunts Myrtle, Etta, and Coral, decide to kidnap three children from London to help them with such tasks as cleaning mermaids who were caught in an oil slick and coaxing an egg-bound boobrie to lay its enormous eggs. Two of the children, Fabio and Minette, turn out to be enthusiastic workers who grow to love the island and their charges, but Lambert Sprott is a cell-phone-addicted brat…readers will not be able to put the book down until they know for sure that all the island’s inhabitants are safe and sound.”
Secret of Platform 13 – “The door between our world and the enchanted Island is only open for nine days every nine years. Unfortunately, in the last minutes before it closes in 1983, the baby prince of the Island is kidnapped by a nasty woman named Trottle. For nine long years, the king and queen pine and plan for his rescue. Which of the magical creatures of their land should be sent to rescue their lost child…Ibbotson’s lively fantasy is full of fun with its Dahl-like, but less mean-spirited, humor. Children will enjoy the magical creatures, including the cuddly mistmakers who emit fog when they hear music.”
The Star of Kazan – “Abandoned as a baby, Annika is found and adopted by Ellie and Sigrid, cook and housemaid for three professors. Growing up in early-20th-century Vienna, she learns to cook and clean and is perfectly happy until a beautiful aristocrat appears and claims to be her mother, sweeping her off to a new life in a crumbling castle in northern Germany. Annika is determined to make the best of things, and it takes a while for her to realize that her new “family” has many secrets, most of them nasty. With the help of Ellie, Sigrid, the professors, and friends old and new, Annika escapes from a ghastly fate and learns to face the truth about her relatives. This is a rich saga in the tradition of Frances Hodgson Burnett, full of stalwart friends, sly villains, a brave heroine, and good triumphing over evil. Annika’s determination to do the right thing is both laudable and utterly frustrating, especially when readers realize that her loyalty is misplaced. Almost every character is distinct, but the ones that stand out are the “regular folk,” individuals whose sense of decency propels them into amazing acts of courage. Vienna itself is colorfully portrayed, brimming with pastries, coffee, and dancing Lipizzaner horses. An intensely satisfying read.”