by Eva Ibbotson, published 2001
“Perhaps I’m mad–and the professor, too–but I think children must lead big lives…if it is in them to do so.”
What is the mark of a great children’s book, really? For me, it is the feeling of immense goodness about the world that rises up when I finally read the last word of the book. It is the expansion of the heart, the conviction that all will be well. That, plus the inability to put the book down once I started it, all accompanied my reading of Journey to the River Sea. It is an adventure from start to finish, but the best kind of adventure… the kind that leads to true self-discovery for the main characters. The very likable Maia, and the equally intriguing Finn, and even the enigmatic but marvelous adult, Miss Minton, all find out who they really are through the process of adventure. And along with them, the reader can’t help but discover something about themselves.
This is the first, and so far, the only book I’ve read of Ibbotson, who has quite a collection of children’s books. Her writing style in this particular book is fabulous. Although the story is set far away in the jungles of the Amazon, at the beginning of the 20th century, everything feels true, real, and possible. The children’s book reads like a mystery novel, as you wonder with each page, what will happen? A fabulous sense of tension without it feeling artificial or forces, Ibbotson lets us take the journey with the characters.
I do think again that it is better for older children, perhaps 10 to 12, although the publisher lists it for 8-year-olds. I guess it depends on the child. There’s nothing bad in it, but it feels a little sophisticated for 8-year-olds, in my mind. I would hope boys would read it too, despite the fact that the main character is a girl. I could go on and on. Suffice it to say, I loved the book.