Island of the Aunts
by Eva Ibbotson
Etta, Coral, and Myrtle-- along with their widower father, a mad cousin, and two other sisters-- came to the Island as girls. They led a simple life, working hard to help the hurt animals that came to them from the sea. But now their father is 103 years old, and the cousin is as mad as ever, and one sister is in a Hong Kong jail for braining a restauranteur with a wok in order to protect an endangered species, and the other sister (even worse) got married and had two bratty children, making Etta, Coral, and Myrtle aunts.
And they're not getting any younger either. The work of caring for all the creatures-- both the ordinary oiled birds and the extraordinary creatures like mermaids and selkies-- has gotten to be too much for them. They need someone to help them, and to carry on when they are gone. Finally the three aunts decide to find three children who really need to be kidnapped-- the kind who are unhappy and unloved, but who can be trusted to work hard and love the Island as much as the aunts do.
Their scheme is amazingly simple. Posing as "useful aunts," who fill in for parents and guardians who don't have time to be with their kids, they comb the under-loved-child population of London searching for just the right kids. Etta finds a hurting little girl named Minette who is tired of being sent back and forth between her divorced parents, who constantly dump their hate for each other on her, and who both refuse to let her have a night light. Coral, for her part, snatches a Brazilian boy named Fabio, who hates his cold, disdainful English grandparents only just less than the boarding school where they mean to make a perfect English gentleman of him-- you know, that kind of English boarding school, which is so horrible (particularly for a little Brazilian boy) that the thought of going there makes him physically ill. Literally.
So far, the plan would have gone off perfectly. Only Myrtle messes things up, snatching a spoiled rich kid who only cares about money and who uses his mobile phone to alert his cutthroat-businessman father to what has happened. Now the police are closing in, and worse, Lambert Sprott's father is closing in with a heavily armed yacht and a scheme to exploit the amazing creatures that have found shelter on the island.
But (magical creatures alert!) Sprott hasn't reckoned with an enraged Selkie (a creature that can take the form of a human or a seal)...a fiercely philosophical Stoorworm (a wingless, aquatic dragon)...a mother Boobrie bird and her nestlings...a close-knit family of mermaids...not to mention Fabio and Minette, who have come to love the Island, the aunts, and their creatures.
Even so, with superior firepower and a fast boat, Sprott might get away with it. And more is at stake than just the freedom and happiness of a handful of old ladies, children, and weird creatures. More is at stake, even, then the lives Sprott is prepared to destroy for his own greedy purposes. The very life and health of the oceans is at stake, in the form of a creature who personifies the healing and reviving forces of the sea.
So it's yet another story about some lovely but miserable children who find unlikely, even magical happiness-- and the evil people who try to take it back from them. It portrays a variety of magical beasts in rich detail, but the magic of the characters is what I fell in love with. Expect lots of danger, a bit of courtroom drama, and some soft-spoken social criticism pointed at the types of parents, grandparents, and schools that make children miserable, and the diseased culture in which they flourish, and at the foolishness of the way mankind treats the oceans and the creatures that live in them.
It's not awfully preachy, though. I like this story. I think you would too. Have I ever steered you wrong?
Recommended Age: 10+
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