Eva Ibbotson's Journey to the River Sea is the model of a good middle-grade adventure. There's a sympathetic lead character (plucky, troubled, different, kind, resourceful...), a patient, powerful, and wise adult, a few adventurous (eventually) cohorts, and some really petty villains. There's great scenery, the potential for small dangers, and real betrayal.
You could read the book if you were uptight, and never have your buttons pushed. (Well, maybe if you're really, really uptight. I hope not.) And it wasn't boring, slow, or shallow at all. That's a really nice trick.
The cover of the volume I have is like all the other Eva Ibbotson book covers I've seen - a bit soft and impressionistic, somewhat feminine. Clearly the covers are aimed at girls. But the story would be enjoyable by boys a little past the Beverly Cleary level of adventure, and maybe to more adventurous ones as well. Journey to the River Sea is set in a realistic, Victorian past, with scenes in England, on the Atlantic, and mostly in Brazil. The landscapes, riverscapes, and social situations are detailed without being overwhelming or tedious. The plot chugs along reliably like a small riverboat, with sudden turns and eddies that end up changing everything.
I think I'll send a copy to my niece, who's in third grade.
Eva Ibbotson, born in 1925, passed away in October of this year, leaving at least a dozen books for us to enjoy. Start as I did with Journey to the River Sea, and I think you'll follow me to the rest of her works not long after.
Read about a few of her books published by Penguin.
- Steve Shea
- A 40-ish publisher (editor, project manager, etc.), husband, and father of an even number of offspring, I grew up, or failed to, reading fantasy and sci-fi. I still enjoy reading, and now am trying to write. My favorite books include YA fantasy, manga, biography, and advice to authors. I'm also a former history major/grad student/high school teacher and assessment writer. Now I work for a school supplement publisher, specializing in high-low chapter books. I spend a lot of my time controlling reading levels. At night, I cut loose and use long words. W00t!