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Island of the Aunts

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Aunt Etta, Aunt Coral, and Aunt Myrtle need help caring for the mermaids, selkies, and other creatures who live on their hidden island--and they know that adults can't be trusted. What the kindly old aunts need are a few sensible and sturdy children who can keep a secret. And while kidnapping is generally not a good idea, sometimes it just has to be done. (After all, some kids just plain need to be kidnapped.) When the newly kidnapped assistant caretakers, Minette and Fabio, arrive on the island, all kinds of amazing and wondrous things start happening.

281 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1999

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About the author

Eva Ibbotson

63 books2,203 followers
Eva Ibbotson (born Maria Charlotte Michelle Wiesner) was a British novelist specializing in romance and children's fantasy.

She was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1925. When Hitler came into power, her family moved to England. She attended Bedford College, graduating in 1945; Cambridge University from 1946-47; and the University of Durham, from which she graduated with a diploma in education in 1965. Ibbotson had intended to be a physiologist, but was put off by the amount of animal testing that she would have to do. Instead, she married and raised a family, returning to school to become a teacher in the 1960s. Ibbotson was widowed with three sons and a daughter.

Ibottson began writing with the television drama 'Linda Came Today', in 1965. Ten years later, she published her first novel, The Great Ghost Rescue. Ibbotson has written numerous books including The Secret of Platform 13, Journey to the River Sea, Which Witch?, Island of the Aunts, and Dial-a-Ghost. She won the Nestlé Smarties Book Prize for Journey to the River Sea, and has been a runner up for many of major awards for British children's literature.

Her books are imaginative and humorous, and most of them feature magical creatures and places, despite the fact that she disliked thinking about the supernatural, and created the characters because she wanted to decrease her readers' fear of such things.

Some of the books, particularly Journey to the River Sea, also reflect Ibbotson's love of nature. Ibbotson wrote this book in honor of her husband (who had died just before she wrote it), a former naturalist. The book had been in her head for years before she actually wrote it.

Ibbotson said she dislikes "financial greed and a lust for power" and often creates antagonists in her books who have these characteristics. Some have been struck by the similarity of "Platform 9 3/4" in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books to Ibbotson's The Secret of Platform 13, which came out three years before the first Harry Potter book.

Her love of Austria is evident in works such as The Star Of Kazan and A Song For Summer. These books, set primarily in the Austrian countryside, display the author's love for nature and all things natural.

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5 stars
2,873 (33%)
4 stars
3,088 (36%)
3 stars
2,048 (23%)
2 stars
412 (4%)
1 star
150 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 432 reviews
Profile Image for Ann.
510 reviews
July 17, 2010
I'm still not entirely sure what I thought of this book... part of me really liked it, and part of me didn't. I suppose if half stars were allowed, I’d award this 3 and a half, but since there aren’t, I’ll err on the plus side.

First of all, I very much enjoyed Ibboston's style of writing. She definitely has a flare for words and a wonderful way with unique descriptions. She's also able to give one a feeling of a character in just a few phrases, something it seems few authors are able to do. I think this lead to some of my disappointment, however, when after some great initial introductions to characters, there really wasn't follow-up or growth. And, sometimes Ibbotson's wonderful descriptions were redundant and got in the way of the flow.

Also, while this was a fun book about various creatures (both mythical and not) that gravitate to the Island of the Aunts for care, the book was still not entirely what I'd expected. Like "Fablehaven" I hoped that this would be a book about caring for magical creatures, and (like "Fablehaven") while it this was one aspect of the book, it wasn't the focus (though I enjoyed this book much more than I did "Fablehaven").

Some of this book was incredibly predictable, and some of it wasn't at all. Most of my concerns arise from the premise of the book, that the Aunts kidnap the children. Now, I feel Ibbotson tried throughout the book to justify this, and to show that the Aunts were not bad, and that they were actually doing a good thing. And while some of this may be true, I could never get over the fact that they did take three children without their explicit consent. I also wasn't pleased that the one child that did his best to escape was portrayed as mean and that he should have wanted to stay. Unfortunately, the good messages Ibbotson seemed to want to convey were undermined because of these two issues (at least for me).

Also, many of the messages seemed inconsistent (especially a parent's love for his/her child).
And one of the most disconcerting issues came when what we were supposed to think was one of the best characters, was going to leave our other heros to perish because he had failed to acquire correct information (and didn't seek it out either)... hrm....

I'm still really not sure which messages Ibbotson wished to convey, but I did enjoy the book and her style. The book created many wonderful visuals, and overall I'd recommend it - just with a few cautions attached.
Profile Image for Mike (the Paladin).
3,145 reviews1,805 followers
August 6, 2014
Once again I find myself in a "startlingly small" minority about a book. I find myself wondering if it's something generational here? Now, my children are all grown, but given the opportunity, I'd probably not have read this one to them... (but to quote one of the Aunts in the book "you know how men are." Really? What would be the reaction if I said "you know how women are"? That's a phrase we don't use anymore because it's deemed to be demeaning. Apparently "men" can't be demeaned. To be fair, the boy in the book does take umbrage to the phrase.)

The book of course is not all bad nor totally negative (or I wouldn't have gone 2 stars). While some of the responsibility taught in this book is a good thing, and I applaud it, the context in which she attempts to teach it leaves much to be desired. I mean should we really tell kids that if they have inattentive parents "they need to be kidnapped"? No, not really (in this world, not even in fantasy. In a world where you can't turn the TV on without daily accounts of child kidnapping is it really a topic for whimsical fantasy?) The book (in places) also tends to be more a volume of "propaganda" geared to indoctrinating kids into a certain mode of thinking than a thought provoking story that will "delight and teach".

I see all the "high ratings" on this book, I see that many here seem to think highly of it, I'm cognizant of your feelings, but I've got to step back away from these vaguely sinister aunts and say...not a book I'd steer my kids (or grand-kids) toward.
Profile Image for Kathryn.
4,183 reviews
July 8, 2010
Having read and loved Ibbotson's The Great Ghost Rescue, I had high hopes for my journey to the Island of the Aunts. And I must now consider myself an Ibbotson fan! I love her style. For me, it is the closet thing to JK Rowling's that I've found in terms of characterization and humor and blending magic with "the real world" but Ibbotson also has her own flare and it just makes me smile to read her work.

That said, I must say I was a little disappointed with "Island of the Aunts" Maybe my expectations were too high, as I know it's one of her most popular titles, but I finished the book feeling a bit unfulfilled. I felt it walked the line between being a book about fantastical creatures and being a book about the real-world problems faced by the characters and I'm not sure either was fully developed in consequence. It's fun to meet all the "magical creatures" on the island and I love the idea of taking care of them but again there wasn't too much focus on that. I also think it's important to show a story where children don't have a happy family life but somehow find fulfillment through the natural world, through other people who care about them, and through becoming more aware of their own potential and worth--which Ibbotson does. But I also didn't feel that the children grow as much as they could have. And there were some plot threads that never quite cleared up what is "right" and "wrong"--not that I think all kids' books should be clearly black and white, but again I think stories like Harry Potter do a wonderful job of showing the variations in people (such as Dumbledore not always being "perfect" but ultimately choosing to do right) while still allowing that there are universal truths, "good" and "bad" ways (if we must label them) of dealing with situations and I felt that was lacking in "Island of the Aunts" I was left a bit unsure of how I was supposed to feel; again, I appreciate a story that doesn't put a neat little bow on a Hallmark card moral-of-the-story, but, I just felt it could have been a bit stronger since it seemed to be a book with a "message."

Complaints aside, this is still a charmingly written, humorous story that should appeal to both boys and girls. There is an underlying message of caring for the natural world, and especially its creatures, and this is a great novel if you are looking for books with an environmental theme. And, oh how I wish that the Kraken could swim past our shores these days, spreading his message of peace and harmony!
Profile Image for Jonathan Peto.
252 reviews46 followers
October 17, 2020
I just finished reading this book to my son, who is nine, and he expressed curiosity about whether there was a sequel, which surprised me. He never complained while I read it, which surprised me first, because Island of the Aunts is not like the books he reads on his own and I myself had some mixed feelings about the story.

An appreciation of Eva Ibbotson in the Horn Book a year or two ago convinced me to pick this up. Like other reviewers here, I loved the author's writing style, which was lyrical and enjoyably precise, wonderful to read aloud, because it was impossible not to read it with expression, even when tired.

The aunts of the title care secretly for a large number of sea creatures, some that are ordinary, but others that aren't, like mermaids and selkie. The aunts' advancing age worries them, and they kidnap a few children to inherit their tasks, which complicates the message about caring for the environment/ocean a bit. There are a few places where her message is, not muddled, but actually suspect. She is a careful writer, I think, and I believe she means what she says. The book could therefore inspire some good conversations about right and wrong and responsibility when taking action about complex issues, like stewardship of the environment. Two of the children they kidnap fair well; one doesn't. Like Roald Dahl, her characters are capable of outrageous acts, and her villains are shockingly mean (the aunts aren't the villains) and so real that they are, in fact, worse than evil because they are so damn human.

Despite the powerful description and the extraordinary elegance of her writing, I was disappointed that I did not end up feeling closer to the two main children, Minette and Fabio, who I liked, but whose viewpoints and personalities were never really allowed to suffuse the narrative. I was surprised my son expressed interest in a sequel because the old aunts and their concerns dominated, which is not a bad experience for children and definitely attests to Ibbotson's skills, but the lack filled me with regret because Minette and Fabio were such good kids and perceiving their wonder and transformation from the inside a little more might have been uplifting and joyous.

I know Ibbotson has passed away. It might be interesting to continue Minette and Fabio's story in fan fiction...
Profile Image for Namratha.
1,057 reviews231 followers
May 17, 2011
Island Of The Aunts is Eva Ibbotson's magical, sea-side fantasy with an environmental message.

Three oddball aunts; Etta, Coral and Myrtle live on a secret island.....caring for a wide variety of animals ranging from ordinary chickens to mystical creatures like selkies, boobries and even a family of abandoned, oil-slick mermaids. But managing the ever-increasing menagerie is a full-time job and the aunts aren’t getting any younger.

So the best option seems to be to kidnap some children and bring them to the island. Without any malice whatsoever in their hearts, the three aunts capture a child each. Initially two of the children (Fabio and Minette) are scared, but the magic of the island and the multitude of animal life soon drives away their fears. They grow to love the island as their own and are as fiercely protective of each creature as the aunts themselves.

The aunts on their part, treat the children with affection and a firm hand. But the black spot in the whole scenario is the third captive, an obnoxious brat called Lambert who refuses to chip in and generally buzzes around like a irritating wasp. Things take an ugly turn when Lambert manages to get in touch with his father Mr.Sprott, whose money grubbing nature views the island as a golden egg waiting to be exploited. A struggle between good and the downright nasty ensues.....with many an unpleasant surprise.

This is an ideal book for animal lovers and the plea for environmental protection is slipped in without any sanctimonious preaching. Eva Ibbotson’s delicious writing style is loaded with her usual nuttiness and charm. The unlikely heroines (the aunts) are lovable in their eccentricities. The animalia is rich and varied and exhibit emotions so diverse that it’s hard not to empathise . As for the villians.....they are black through and through with not a smidgen of grey. You absolutely love to hate them and can’t wait to see justice meted out.

In all…a simple story with a deep message. One of Ibbotson’s finest and a definite must-have for all you nature-friendly people out there.
Profile Image for Blessing.
151 reviews
March 4, 2009
I got this book at mom's house when she was letting us pick 5 books out.
This is a real story - meaning not fantasy, but it actually has some things that wouldn't be classified as "real". It has mermaids that have been in an oil spill and selkie seals that when you look in their eyes you can see a human spirit. There is also the Kraken....you have to read the book to find out why this Kraken is so beautifully created by the author.
Taking place from England, there are 3 aunts (they have a nephew & a niece) who live on this island in the Atlantic Ocean. They need help taking care of all the animals and creatures that have come to the island for healing and refuge (from oil spills...), since they are getting older. So, they decide to kidnap 3 children. 2 end up being good choices and one a not so good one (he just wants his cell phone and his ipod), the other 2 "enjoy" being kidnapped.

Well it all comes to a head when someone discovers the island in the search to rescue the kidnapped children. And when the aunts are put on trial for kidnapping the children, did the children really get kidnapped after all???
Profile Image for Tijana.
732 reviews190 followers
February 17, 2019
Knjige Eve Ibotson su generalno okej za svoju ciljnu grupu ali odrasli čitalac, da ne kažem ja, svako malo naleti na poneku kognitivnu disonancu. Nekad su zanemarljive a nekad su malo pregusto posejane, recimo ovde. Bez zalaženja u detalje, mogu reći da sam nailazila i na bolje tretmane što negativnih što pozitivnih likova, i na veću nijansiranost ili, sa druge strane, radikalnije pa time i zabavnije karikiranje, recimo kod Roalda Dala, ali i kod same Eve. :/
Profile Image for Kailey (Luminous Libro).
2,856 reviews434 followers
May 30, 2021
The aunts need help, so they decide to kidnap some children and train them up. But these will have to be special children; children who can be trusted with the greatest secret of the island.

Fantastic and imaginative! I loved it! I had me gasping in surprise, and laughing and crying and laughing some more.

Update: Reading this the second or third time is just as enjoyable and magical.

I love all the weird and wacky characters! The aunts are just hilarious, Minette is utterly sweet, and Fabio is such a brave little fellow.

I love all the magical creatures, the mermaids, and selkies, and other wild creatures. It's all so imaginative and interesting. The details make it all feel real and exciting.

The plot keeps your attention, and there is always something crazy going on. Just when you think you know what is going to happen, something totally unexpected surprises you.

The writing style is powerful and whimsical. It is concise, but uses vivid words and emotional scenes to draw the reader into the magic of the story.
Profile Image for Robin Stevens.
Author 35 books2,058 followers
October 19, 2014
Eva Ibbotson will teach you how to be a better person. If this book doesn't make you want to run away to a magical island to tend to the natural world (baby krakens and baby ducks alike) and live in harmony with the universe then you probably don't have a soul.
Profile Image for Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore.
745 reviews164 followers
November 8, 2020
This is the fourth of Ibbotson’s books that I’ve read and once again one for children featuring both eccentric characters and fantastical creatures. But even though it is a fun adventure story, and probably more unusual than her others, at its heart (like her others) it essentially is a comment on human beings and the ills we unleash on the world around us, on our greed, selfishness—things that make so many of us rather despicable.

In this one, we have three sisters living on an island with their old father. They have been there for years and have been looking after various creatures—fish and animals who suffer because of oil spills and such; but these ‘ordinary’ beings are not the only ones they look after—there are also selkies, mermaids, and the boobrie bird. But these sisters, the aunts, Eta, Coral and Myrtle are now growing old and begin to worry about their charges. So they decide to do something very unnatural for them—kidnap some children who they’ll train to take over. And so Minette, Fabio, and unfortunately Lambert find themselves on the island. While the aunts have in their opinion ‘chosen’ children whose parents/guardians don’t seem to care particularly for them, there are consequences and attempts are made to look for them. Also, among the children, unlike Minette and Fabio who seem perfectly cut out for the purpose the aunts brought them for, Lambert a nasty, spoilt and wealthy boy is not and is determined to escape (while one can’t exactly fault him for it, his presence portends trouble). Meanwhile on the island, the children begin to learn about the unusual creatures and all that is involved in taking care of them, and soon enough become part of life there. An unusual event is also taking place bringing a lot joy to the island and its inhabitants (human and others), but sadly to spoil it, a greedy and dangerous man is heading to the island. And once he discovers all the usual beings who live there, he begins to covet them to fill his coffers some more.

This is a fun yet crazy tale of the aunts who are looking for the right people to take over their mantle but sadly choose the wrong way of getting them to the island. The aunts are quite good fun, though also very eccentric (we meet two others who don’t live on the island), and yet the only one of these sisters who chose the ‘normal’ path in life ends up coming across as the odd one. Minette and Fabio are very likeable too, and expectedly Lambert is horrid as are Boo-Boo and the Little One, children of Betty, the ‘normal’ sister. The adventure itself of how the children come to the island, and how Minnette and Fabio not only prove that they were indeed the right choices to look after their new animal and unusual friends, but also turn out to be the ones who help their new friends escape the clutches and nefarious schemes of the evil Mr Sprott. There are a few twists and surprises along the way which I thought added to the fun. And I also though the book did a good job of delivering its message on human failings and the terrible harm that were causing the world around us. Not only that, Ibbotson also manages to poke fun at many of our vanities and habits. May be not my favourite Ibbotson, but still good fun.

I read this one as part of my seasonal picks in October.
Profile Image for Katie Fitzgerald.
Author 3 books196 followers
April 24, 2021
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.

This review also appears on my blog, Read-at-Home Mom.
Profile Image for Abby Johnson.
3,373 reviews310 followers
May 20, 2007
Sisters Etta, Cora, and Myrtle are getting older and they know that they're going to need some help taking care of the creatures that reside on their island. What they need are a couple of strong, open-minded children. Children nobody seems to want. Children who will grow up on the island and learn to love and care for the creatures that come there for help. There doesn't seem to be any other way to get such children except to kidnap them. So that's what the sisters decide to do.

When Minette and Fabio first come to the island, they don't love it instantly... but once they find out the special creatures they will be taking care of, they grow to love it. But what will happen when the future of the island is threatened?

Another hit by Ibbotson. She tells the story with wit and humor. It's funny and touching with a dash of adventure. Highly recommended for fantasy fans.
Profile Image for Dyah.
1,110 reviews55 followers
August 8, 2018
While reading this, I keep asking myself, "Is this really written by Eva Ibbotson?"
I love her writings, I should love this one too... but I DON'T
I don't know what goes wrong, but I just can't enjoy Monster Mission. It's boring...
Profile Image for Rebecca.
196 reviews12 followers
June 7, 2022
Ok, so imagine if 1) Al Gore wrote a children’s book, and 2) he was a good writer with a British sense of humor.

Would probably be very much someone’s thing. Somehow very much not mine, though.
Profile Image for Cinara.
542 reviews7 followers
September 27, 2022
"Um lugar que não fosse nenhum nem outro.

Tias que sequestram a tristeza...
Acredito que não existe um ser humano, adulto ou criança, que já não quis estar num lugar nem outro mas num terceiro lugar. Essa autora maravilhosa consegue levar qualquer um para terceiros, quartos, quintos lugares, cheios de fantasia, fastasmas, sereias, tias sequestradoras e tudo de mais lúdico que possa existir.
Já estou com saudades querendo reler todos 7 livros novamente.
Amor pra Eva Ibbotson!
Profile Image for Treasa.
310 reviews2 followers
August 15, 2009
I am wavering between 3 and 4 stars. I really like Eva Ibbotson's writing, so I would like to give it 4 stars. But I just wasn't that excited about the book. I think the thing that bothered me most was that the aunts kidnapped children. Sure, I know why they did it. But I still didn't like it. And I didn't feel particularly tied to any of the characters, which is disappointing. The aunts were the best-developed characters, but they were also kidnappers, so I couldn't get too emotionally attached to them. The other characters that stood out were the seal (who is a great character, probably my favorite in the book) and various other magical creatures. The children were pretty flat, but likable. The message of the book was good - save the environment and whatnot. So, it was a pleasant read. If I had not been bothered by the whole kidnapping thing, I probably would have love it.
Profile Image for Serena W. Sorrell.
301 reviews75 followers
March 1, 2017
(did not finish)

I just found the tone, the writing, and really the themes and characters to be entirely too preachy about conservation. Of course we all know how important it is, but the book really managed to make me feel like I was listening to someone begin a 'save the whales' speech rather than a fiction work aimed at children.

Not to mention the whole drugging and kidnapping of children just didn't hit a chord with me.
March 11, 2017
Island Of The Aunts is truly one of the cookiest, funniest and craziest books I've ever read. The book itself takes place on an Island where Minette and Fabio are sent to live with their three aunts, who are also caretakers of the island. As the book goes on, you learn more and more about the island, and will keep you reading until you've finished. Suspense is everywhere as Fabio and Minette learn about the Kracken, and how a rich man wants to come and build on the island. I would definitely recommend this book to young teens or preteens, as it does deal with more childish ideas and senses, but nonetheless, is still entertaining. I love this book because of the characters and the character development. All three of the aunts are hilarious in their own way, as well as Fabio and Minette. You should definitely read this if you want to pass the time and are in a goofy mood.
Profile Image for Jane.
479 reviews21 followers
June 23, 2021
I enjoyed this Eva Ibbotson fantasy story for kids. A lot of fun!

Loved the fantasy creatures and how they're part of our world. Loved the kraken and his role in the seas.

The two kids are likable and I enjoyed their journeys. Loved how hard they work and how they find meaning and support in the ways they need on the island. Loved their ending

Third kid was super annoying and seemed to embody selfishness and stubbornness. I did feel bad for him once we meet his horrid father and see how he's treated. Interesting relationships to think about as a parent

The aunts are fantastic. Quirky, loving, hard working and surprising. I loved them and how we get to know them all thru the story.

There are some slow parts. And dark elements that make this better for middle grade rather than small children. Still, I enjoyed it. Ibbotson is a favorite of mine 👍🏻
584 reviews3 followers
May 16, 2020
A fantastic middle grade with themes even adults should enjoy. There's quite a lot of allusion to environmentalism, so if that's a subject you're interested in, or want to encourage children to read, I highly recommend.
Profile Image for Madeline.
2 reviews
June 19, 2019
This was one of my favorites as a kid, it still is. Escapism, environmentalism, friendships, lessons on hard work and compassion. Love this story.
Profile Image for Chloe Klare.
107 reviews3 followers
January 20, 2021
My friend sent me this “completely happy book” because apparently I read too many depressing books...and it was so cute and wholesome
Profile Image for Gabrielle Schwabauer.
266 reviews19 followers
January 26, 2023
I would not have finished this if I hadn't had to read it for work.

There were things going for this story. Children being empowered to nurture the earth and all its creatures instead of living lives of selfish consumption? Yes. Cool weird animals? Yes. The kids at my library book club who read it were mostly positive about it. The tone is weird and silly in a way that wasn't for me, but many kids will enjoy.

Still, I can't overlook it's many glaring flaws enough to add even one more star.

1. Kidnapping. Yeah, I know, it's supposed to be silly and absurd. Didn't work for me. Because it's not a Willy Wonka type story where the over-the-top elements complement the theme. These outrageous actions fight AGAINST the theme, constantly. The aunts love every living creature and insist that they all be cared for--except children. They LOATHE children. They judge children harshly, enact violence against them, terrify them, and use them as forced labor for the "good" of the island and their own ends. Their ends being the health and preservation of living things. Yay? This is an especially fun addition considering Fabio, one of the two protagonists, is a Brazilian boy forcibly adopted by old white British people and physically punished on the regular, sent to boarding school to get the "savage" trained out of him, etc., and then I guess we're supposed to like the aunts who also steal him away and use him for forced labor (but they gave him a bed, so that's okay!) but oh look, he likes it better than his old abusive home so I guess he'd better literally defend his abusers in court at the end! It was like a weird-ass adoption metaphor gone horribly wrong that the book didn't even notice it was making . . . somehow . . . despite that literally being Fabio's backstory . . .

Sure, okay, I'm humorless or whatever. As an advocate for the rights of children and someone who has worked in many kinds of childcare, we are living in a world where children are legally property, violence against them is legally protected in most of the U.S., and many parents will laugh in your face if you talk about respecting kids as people. We don't need any "joke" stories about how every living thing, even tiny little earthworms, has more inherent value than a human child.

2. Lambert. Yeah, so Fabio and Minette get kidnapped (literally drugged with chloroform, I wish I were joking) but there's also a third child! He commits the unforgivable sin of being Inherently Worthless (we can tell because he likes economics and stuffy clothes and he doesn't like the zoo) so he exists to be a punching bag. There's no empathy toward this child whatsoever in the narrative. He is chloroformed, stuffed into a violin case, and barricaded inside of a bedroom. Nobody will let him out because he's proven he can't be trusted by . . . being really upset that he was forcibly kidnapped. Oh, and he startled some baby ducklings early on. The nerve! That's right, kids--do anything to displease a nearby adult and you deserve to be traumatized, isolated, and attacked. Despite hearing his screaming and sobbing all day, Fabio and Minette never feel a single shred of sympathy or guilt about his situation. They're a-ok with being kidnapped and performing hard labor 12-16 hours a day to support their elderly kidnappers while the other child sobs and bangs on his bedroom door. They're fine with the fact that the aunts stole Lambert's phone and hid it so he couldn't call for help, then trapped him in a room with no plan. In fact, our two heroes fantasize about killing or drowning him because he's "annoying" and a "crybaby." Another favorite narrative of adults: one that teaches kids to hate other kids who aren't complying with the wishes of nearby adults. It's okay for adults if they can scare kids into obeying, but even better if they can turn children into little enforcers who will loathe other children just on the basis of "they're not doing as they're told," no matter how unreasonable, traumatizing, or abusive the demand. So of course this culminates in Fabio busting into Lambert's room and physically assaulting him, literally beating his fellow kidnapped child while screaming at him to get outside and work, because I guess Fabio is morally superior and Lambert is a sniveling weakling? He is ridiculed for such grievous sins as "finally calling his dad to rescue him from the island where he's been kidnapped" and "bursting into tears when, after weeks of imprisonment, his father answers the phone" and "crying while begging his father not to kill the other two children," an act you'd think would spark some empathy in the two children about to be killed, but no, they just feel further contempt for his tears. It is WILD. Like, in order to protect the island or some BS, Fabio invents this whole story to Lambert about how he's being drugged with hallucinogens and that's why Lambert is going to see weird creatures, but don't worry, mermaids and giant sea dragons aren't real, it's just the hallucinogenic drugs the aunts are force-feeding you. Again Lambert is an "idiot" for believing this despite the fact the aunts LITERALLY JUST DRUGGED HIM, it's not a stretch, and spends the rest of the book nearly hysterical with fear and confusion because he has no idea what is and isn't real around him, and everyone's like "Good job Fabio, very clever, way to preemptively torture another human child just in case he was ever going to say something weird so somebody about mermaids."

3. There's no hope of redemption for Lambert because there's no hope of redemption for anyone. It pretends to be a story about good vs. evil but there's no sense of anyone making any real choices. There are good, worthy people like Minette and Fabio, and there are bad, worthless people like Lambert (and like two literal toddlers the aunts also bring to the island, toddlers immediately disdained by the two "good" children because the toddlers are "idiots" who care about things like dust and want their clothes organized a certain way). Every person who doesn't agree with the aunts about everything is an idiot. Leaving the island: idiot. Liking clothes: idiot. Not wanting to be drugged and kidnapped: idiot. And all idiots are expendable, so nothing you do to them matters.

4. Seriously, I've never read a children's story that hates children this much. It really wants you to believe this is a story of Minette and Fabio being empowered, but actually they only have any freedoms as long as they do exactly what the aunts want at all times, and by the end the great triumph is that they've come around to defending the aunts in court, lying on their behalf to downplay the actual terror they felt at the beginning of the story, and dedicating their lives to the aunts' cause. It was like a terrifying cult indoctrination story where part of the ritual was to treat every other "non-believer" child with as much contempt as possible to prove their in-group status. A huge plot point is Fabio and Minette caring for the tiny baby kraken that the huge sea-god kraken has left on the island. They love this thing. It's sweet! They sleep with it, speak tenderly to it, comfort it, encourage it, try really hard to be understanding when it cries or rages or withdraws, and then a human toddler walks in and ask them a question and they literally scream at the child to get out and throw his stuffed animal at him. It was so, so creepy. The aunts were grooming these two kids to be their slaves by feeding them stories about how they were "special" and "not like all the other kids," turning them against other children, and I dunno, I am just very not cool with that at all!

5. Whyyyyyyy was there a subplot about sexual assault. Why. Why were there a dozen throwaway lines about these mermaids being held captive by human men and groped and assaulted and traumatized forever. (Are the mermaids taken seriously either? Well, we like them more than the human men, but they're also very eMotIOnAl so the book is pretty patronizing toward them. One mermaid's distrust of men is "silly.") It's all part of a larger disparagement of femininity and worship of "natural" masculinity (running-naked-on-the-beach sort of masculinity, not smoking cigars in a boardroom masculinity) that permeates the story, despite the many female characters. The aunts are not idiots, but their sister, who wears feminine clothes and got married, is an idiot. She cares about clothes and home decor: idiot. Fabio teases Minette repeatedly for crying, and Lambert's tears are always used to frame him as weak and pathetic, even when he's begging his father not to commit murder--a brave act! Lambert is always juxtaposed with Fabio, a more stoic character who uses physical violence to force Lambert to do the manual labor he "ought" to do.

There's a line early on when the aunts are watching Minette and Fabio do tasks around the island where they are carefully observing to make sure they can treat even the slimiest jellyfish or tiniest grub with care and respect. For "there was no room for contempt toward any living thing on the island." That's a truly beautiful theme. Too bad the author didn't want to use it.
Profile Image for Jackie.
521 reviews62 followers
November 18, 2012
So far this is the 3rd story I’ve read by Eva Ibbotson, but unfortunately it’s my least favorite. It starts charmingly enough with the Aunts explaining that kidnapping is bad, but in this case it needs to be done. They need someone who will continue on with their legacy of caring for the magical and regular creatures that come seeking help to their far off island. Since neither of the three has children kidnapping is the only way. I know some reviewers had a problem with the kidnapping part, but I thought it was handled rather well and it did not bother me. What did bother me were some of the unexpected adult themes that were thrown in.

Looking at the book and from the description I was expecting a charming, fairy tale like story with maybe an environmental theme. The 3 quirky aunts, a mermaid and giant bird are featured on the cover, there are some funny illustrations inside and it’s what I know Ibbotson produces from reading some of her previous books. But to my surprise she threw in a mermaid with an abusive, cheating husband, another mermaid who was manhandled and possibly sexually assaulted by a Lord, villains who are strapping some serious guns and are implied to do drug runs and carry whores on their yacht and a bratty kid who smiles while “thinking about: all the people he hated lying dead in their own blood” (p. 61).

Not at all what I expected.

I don’t know what age group this is geared towards, but these themes didn’t seem appropriate for children’s literature especially one that won a literary award. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me being an “adult” or a “prude” even though I normally don’t let things like this bother me it did with this book. I felt like it could’ve been a better book if Ibbotson hadn’t thrown those things in and had concentrated more on the environmental theme of the book. Maybe children reading it will glaze over those details and get distracted by the funny illustrations, but for me I just found it jarring.

I did enjoy parts of the story though. The aunts for the most part were hilarious and quirky. I liked the illustrations. This one in particular had me laughing:

I also enjoyed the magical creatures…even the mermaids. I loved that the kraken makes an appearance and it’s not the typical mythological creature we are used to seeing. Overall, it is a creative story and I think any child or adult, for that matter, would love to visit the magical island. I’m only marking it two stars because the adult themes bothered and distracted me from the story.
Profile Image for chloe yeung ♡.
392 reviews262 followers
March 25, 2017
Last year we had to read Journey to the River Sea for English class, and it was so good.
From then on I started reading a lot of Eva Ibbotson, who has become one of my favorite authors. This book is similar to Journey to the River Sea (what's with the M-word female names and F-word male names?), in which the protagonists were lovers of nature. One of the reasons I find this book amazing is that Ibbotson described the magical creatures in detail so fine that I could actually picture these non-existent animals in my mind.
This book is simply incredible (and made it to my reread list)!
Profile Image for vaugnfreech.
112 reviews1 follower
March 24, 2013
Island of the Aunts is the second book I read from Eva Ibbotson. Which makes me pity myself for discovering the author this late. The book didn’t fail my expectations, for Ibbotson makes bizarre things out of common, of creating wonderful and unforgettable characters without being far-fetched from reality.

The book tells the story of the three aging sisters who live in a remote island somewhere in Greenland. Along with their father who decided to stay in the island and started everything, the three sisters took care of the wonderful creatures who are washed ashore with problems of their own. Such as the boobrie, a huge bird who can’t release her eggs. A stoorworm who is confused. A mermaid family with oils in their tails. A kelpie who wants to be human. And the epicness of all, the Kraken.

Now the three sisters feel they are growing old and no one will look after the creatures they are protecting if ever something happens to them. So they decided one day to go to London and kidnap three children to replace them in the island soon. Minette and Fabio are the good ones and they learned the value of taking care of the sick creatures. But the third one, Lambert, is aggressive enough being such a spoiled child. And when Lambert’s evil father finally intervened, it was up for the aunts and Minette and Fabio to rescue the creatures and save the island.

I found The Island of the Aunts as interesting as when I was reading The Secret of Platform 13. And I’ll say it again, if this book becomes a movie, it should be an animation by Hayao Miyazaki. The book is filled with enough humor, life, lessons…and well, environmental concerns.

I really like the way Ibbotson creates her characters. They’re funny and cool…and yet, so real. I really can’t deny that lately, I’ve been writing stories in the style of Ibbotson.

What I loved most in story is the presence of the Kraken. And I only knew the kraken as that gigantic sea monster in Clash of the Titans. Haha. In the book, the Kraken is a misunderstood creature of the sea. In fact, he is the soul of the sea and heals everyone, everything whenever he appears and hums.

Lambert’s father was cruel enough. He reminded me of Count Olaf from A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Hmmm…so which Ibbotson book shall I read next?
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