After a brief hiatus, I am very pleased to introduce the latest in my series of nostalgic children’s book reviews. This month it is Firefly Phil, who has an excellent taste in books, joining us with a review of one of my personal favourites, Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson.
I am only going to touch lightly on the story-line of this book; it is so fascinating, that to do more would spoil it for you. Very simply, our heroine, Maia, an orphan girl (albeit not poor – this is part of the plot) finds herself setting out with her guardian, Miss Minton, on a voyage to, and up, the Amazon – and to a new life. As she discovers its scenery, wildlife, and culture, and falls in love with it, she is also caught up in a web of adventures.
The portrayal of scenes, characters, and events is wonderfully vivid; the plot contains several facets and is most ingenious. Yet this book goes further than that. Many details that are described carefully are powerfully symbolic, containing many contrasts. Contrasts of conventional perception with the results of enquiry; of prejudice, with the desire for the truth; of haughtiness, meanness, and pride, with a generous-spirited openness towards fellow men; and perversion, greed, and dishonesty with simple desires and joy in living. Yet this is no sanctimonious Victorian cautionary tale; gripping to the finish, it carries its own brand of humour. Young readers will learn ‘life lessons’ without thinking of it in this way – something that good reading matter – and good teaching practice – is very much about. Because of this, many children will love to re-read the story of Maia’s adventures many times, as they grow up. I hope they leave their (doubtless, now battered) copy of the book somewhere where their own children will find it and pick it up…
This brings me to another point: in these days when many of us have to budget carefully, we face a question in regard of books, namely, buy or borrow? Let me say, here is a book I would buy for myself, and buy as a gift.
Children who have reached that magical stage of fluent reading – I can remember it personally, even though it’s, [cough] a long time ago – and who love to think and investigate, will devour this book. Children of ninety, who still love justice and the desire to kick convention in the teeth, will still enjoy it, and needn’t be ashamed of doing so.
A quotation? I was going to give you one, but it’s so precious I’ll leave it for you to find; at one point, Maia is asked what it was like to be ‘rescued’. Note her beautiful reply. Also look for the symbolism in what Miss Minton throws overboard in the later part of the story…
Eva Ibbotson, take a bow – or should that be curtsey? You’ve given us an all-time classic. I humbly lay this review at the end of a long line of prestigious, and well-deserved, awards.
Firefly Phil, October 2013