Monday, October 1, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Journey to the River Sea

Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson (Macmillan 2001)

The Plot (via Goodreads): Sent in 1910 to live with distant relatives who own a rubber plantation along the Amazon River, English orphan Maia is excited. She believes she is in for brightly colored macaws, enormous butterflies, and "curtains of sweetly scented orchids trailing from the trees." Her British classmates warn her of man-eating alligators and wild, murderous Indians. Unfortunately, no one cautions Maia about her nasty, xenophobic cousins, who douse the house in bug spray and forbid her from venturing beyond their coiffed compound. Maia, however, is resourceful enough to find herself smack in the middle of more excitement than she ever imagined, from a mysterious "Indian" with an inheritance, to an itinerant actor dreading his impending adolescence, to a remarkable journey down the Amazon in search of the legendary giant sloth.

This school year, I'm planning to read all of the 2012-13 Oregon Battle of the Books with my 4th grader, and this one was at the top of the pile. We read it aloud, and this is what my son had to say about it:

"It's very exquisite. A great adventure, but still realistic (no magic or anything.) I like all of the characters, even the dreaded twins. I loved the plot, especially the times when Clovis (the itinerant actor mentioned above) is at Westwood. The setting is very unique. I learned that the Amazon river is the largest river and that they grow rubber there."
For a reluctant reader (and writer) this is high praise. I wondered at the outset how he would do with a historical novel, and with a girl main character, but he was rapt and begged me to read it every spare moment. I think the acting theme had a lot to do with it--he wants to be an actor when he grows up.

Personally, I think this is destined to be a quiet classic.

For readers: Third grade on up. As revealed by my son's comments, this is one for all manner of readers--reluctant and avid--and appeals to both boys and girls.

For writers: Ibbotson's handling of an omniscient narrative is deft and worthy of study.

Author's Bio: Ibbotson died in 2010 at the age of 85. She wrote both adult and children's fiction, and also several books in German. (She was born in Austria.) You can find more information about her life and work in this Wikipedia entry.

Happy Middle Grade Monday, everyone!


  1. Wow! You son sounds mature. Tell him thanks for the great review. You too.

  2. Love hearing your son's comments! And your description as a quiet classic puts it on my to-read list.

  3. I think it's cool that your son wants to be an actor when he grows up! What does the Don think?

    Ibbotson's non-fantasy novels are very literary and thought-provoking. Haven't read this one yet, but I was highly impressed by The Star of Kazan, which takes place in Vienna in the early part of the 20th century.

    It's so sad that she's no longer with us.

  4. I love Eva Ibbotson. I read The Secret of Platform 13 last spring, and I have another of her books in my TBR pile but my daughter stole it to put in HER TBR pile so I can't remember the title.

    We have a blossoming actor in this house too. I think we've talked about this before--yours was Young Frankenstein--mine is going to be Belinda Cratchett this Dec. in a community performance of A Christmas Carol. (Strangely enough, her big sister got the part of Belinda's big sister-so I have two Cratchetts! If only my 7 year old son would've tried out for Tiny Tim...)

  5. This sounds like a good read Michael!

    I am doing the same thing for the WA Sasquatch Award Nominees, but I'm not sure if my son will complete the task. He is usually picky about the books he reads!

  6. Thanks for introducing me to a new author. I've never heard of this book before and the story sounds pretty unique to me.

  7. I have heard of this one, but I haven't read it yet. I loved hearing what your son had to say. I can see why it would be a good read for all kids ages 8 and up. As a 5th grade teacher, I look forward to reading it and hope to include it in my historical fiction unit at the end of the year. Thanks for sharing!


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