Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Monster Mission

Monster Mission

Eva Ibbotson
Illustrator:  Alex T. Smith 
For ages 9 to 11
Macmillan Children's Books, 2014   ISBN: 978-1447265696

Etta, Coral and Myrtle are not your run of the mill, everyday kind of aunts. Instead, they are the kind of people who spend their days taking care of a variety creatures, many of which are mythical in nature. Together they work from dawn to dusk on a remote island off the British Isles, tending to all the injured living creatures that flock to the island, where they seek solace and healing. But the aunts are not getting any younger, and so they decide that it is now time to get some helpers to learn their trade. To them, the solution is simple – they decide to kidnap some children whom they will train to be their apprentices. It’s a rather extreme decision, but the aunts think nothing of it.

It turns out that kidnapping intelligent, compassionate and hardworking children is not easy, especially for three kind-hearted women who have been cut off from modern Britain. They certainly don’t fit the stereotypical kidnapper often portrayed in books and movies. For one, they don’t wear masks or roam the streets with evil looking knives, nor do they have any interest in getting ransom money. In spite of these considerable challenges the three lades set off bravely for London where they 'aquire' three children: Minette, Fabio and Lambert

Minette is tired of being shuttled around between her divorced parents who can never seem to communicate without fighting, and Fabio’s life in London is no better. Fabio was raised in South America and life in London with his grandparents - who are bent on instilling in him the famous British stiff upper-lip - is killing his free spirit. Under the watchful eyes of the aunts, Minette and Fabio learn to love, care for, and respect all the living beings (both magical and otherwise) that live on the island.

Back in London, the police are on the lookout for three dangerous ‘kidnapping’ aunts, and Lambert’s father, Mr. Sprott, uses all his power and money to track down his son. He zones in on three islands – one’s a nudist colony, the other is solely inhabited by sheep, and the third, of course, is home to the aunts and their animals. The secret island may soon be under attack by people who don’t appreciate its beauty, but only see it as a means to make more money.

Eva Ibbotson writes this adventure with great skill and wit. Readers will meet a host of characters, both animals and human beings, who have the power to change the world. There’s Herbert the selkie, who cannot make up his mind whether he wishes to remain a seal or become a human being. We meet the cook, Art, an ex-convict who “doesn’t know his own strength.” We come face-to-face with greedy, cold hearted people like Sprott, and indifferent guardians like Fabio’s grandparents. The narrative style is descriptive, and it’s easy to imagine life on the aunts' beautiful island.

A lot of the books that are being published today rely heavily on magic and fantasy to capture the interest of the reader. Ibbotson adds a healthy dash of realism to her story, making Monster Mission a great read.