by Eva Ibbotson, published 1994
“Even if Mrs. Trottle had spoilt Raymond a little, there would be time to put that right when he came to the Island. When children behave badly, it is nearly always the fault of those who bring them up.”
This is just a basically good, silly book, with the wonderful skill of Ibbotson leading us a merry chase through fantasy. The message is always about good winning out in the end; in this case, the utter goodness and simplicity of an orphan boy, who has such immense loyalty to his Nanny that we are almost afraid the happy ending won’t happen (of course, it does). And the persistent faith and loyalty of Odge, the girl hag who just wasn’t quite hag-like.
When I read a children’s book like this, I appreciate that things that might be ‘scary’ such as various monsters, are depicted with such dry humor, that there’s nothing scary at all. Rather it’s all fun, all imagination, and all easily read by even a sensitive child. At the same time, there’s a good bit of drama in the book, as a rescue operation seems to be going nowhere, and the window of time is closing. This small drama makes one keep reading, to be sure it all turns out okay.
However, what drew me into the story, and stays with me, is the way Ibbotson, (and perhaps all the other British writers that I love), make their legends oh so real. Is there really a place called Avalon, the land of mists? Are there witches and hags? Is there magic? When I read a book like this, there’s no question that it all must be real. Being immersed in the old legends, the old traditions, the old ways, is one of the best reasons to read the British authors, past and present. For them, the little people, the misty islands, the sorcerers and wizards, will never disappear. Here’s to the power of their imagination.