Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Fumbling Through Fantasy: Island of the Aunts by Eva Ibbotson (1999)

Three sisters, Etta, Coral, and Myrtle, have been tending to the unusual creatures on their island without help for years. Realizing that more hands would make lighter work for them as they age, the sisters pose as aunts and each one kidnaps a child. Two of the children, Minette and Fabio, are mostly agreeable and pleasant, but the third choice, Lambert, proves to be difficult and even dangerous in a variety of ways. As Minette and Fabio adjust to life on the island, and distance themselves from the troubles they left behind in their regular lives, they come to feel a strong affinity for the aunts and their creatures, but Lambert feels no such sympathy and soon brings a major threat to the island in the form of his greedy father.

I absolutely love Eva Ibbotson's historical novels for kids and teens, and I decided to read this book aloud to my kids based on that. Unfortunately, though my kids enjoyed the book, I found it to be a slog. The  sense of humor puts me in mind of Roald Dahl, but the execution is both more preachy and more zany than I wanted it to be. The ecological lesson the book wants to teach, about respecting the environment and caring for animals, is very heavy-handed, and there are quite a few vaguely religious aspects to the story that seem to contradict a Christian worldview and felt uncomfortable for me to read to my kids. The story also involves a lot of brokenness in each kidnapped child's family of origin, and I felt that the cavalier attitude with which bad behavior was treated  was a bit much, even for my oldest. There was also a hint at an idea I've seen in three middle grade books I've read recently: that it's okay, and maybe even heroic, for parents to abandon their kids for the greater good. Granted, the parent in question in this book is a kraken, but I still felt uncomfortable. 

My kids are big fans of fantasy and I'm not, so I think some of my weariness with the book does stem from having to read aloud something so vastly different from what I enjoy myself. But had this been a great fantasy story, it would have won me over, as others have done in the past, and that never happened. Depending on the subject matter, I may not be opposed to letting my kids enjoy others of Ibbotson's fantasy stories on their own, but for myself, from now on, I'm sticking to her historical fiction. 

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