Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Eva Ibbotson

Two books of hers I have read recently:

Not Just a Witch
Island of the Aunts

She came highly recommended by a homeschooler I know, so I looked forward to reading them. And now that I have, I am beginning to wonder -- what is it about British writers that they are so focused on some of the nastier aspects of human behavior? Bullying is an especially prevalent theme, but petty-minded selfishness comes in a lot as well. Diana Wynne-Jones, J.K. Rowling, Raold Dahl, Jenny Nimmo, and yes, Eva Ibbotson all seem to spend a lot of ink on characters that are unpleasant in very specific and similar ways. It's not just that they are selfish and mean, but they're also shallow and one-dimensional, a kind of cartoon villainy that seems flat and predictable to me.

In J.K. Rowling's books, I have always felt that her scenes with the muggle family who take Harry in are her very weakest. In fact, when I read her first book for the first time, the first chapter was almost enough to make me close the book in disgust. (I'm glad I kept reading.) With Island of the Aunts, my feeling was that my kids didn't really need to be exposed to this ugliness. The thing is, that with all these authors, there is a lot of other stuff as well, all of it interesting and fun to read. Which way do the scales tip? Overall good, or not worth it?

So I decided just to keep out of it and let Maya read it for herself. She loved it. And when I asked her about the characters I hadn't liked, she said they made her sad but there was so much else in the book that she loved. And since I'm probably way over sensitive about things like this, I bet most everybody else would like them, too.

Island of the Aunts is about three sisters (who have a fourth sister, who has children, thus making them genuine aunts) who care for the injured wildlife, somesupernatural, that appears on the shore of their island. Realizing that they're not getting any younger, they take a unique approach to finding someone to carry on after they're gone. Not Just a Witch is about two witches actually, both idealistic and longing to make the world a better place.

For those of you that haven't read Eva Ibbotson's books, I think they're worth checking out. Definitely well-written, imaginative and quirky, and awarded with Maya's seal of approval.



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