With their warmth and humour, magical characters and heaps of adventure, Eva Ibbotson’s books are loved by children, and adults, of all ages. With 2019 marking the 25th anniversary of the publication of her much-loved middle-grade story, The Secret of Platform 13, now is the perfect time to find out more about this Eva and her brilliant books. And if kids love The Secret of Platform 13, they’ll adore prize-winning author Sibéal Pounder’s sequel, Beyond Platform 13.
Who was Eva Ibbotson?
Eva Ibbotson’s life was as adventurous as those of the characters she created in her mystical middle-grade stories and sweeping young adult romances. Born to Jewish parents in Vienna in 1925, at nine years old Eva moved to London to join her mother, a successful novelist and playwright, who had fled Vienna in 1933 after her work was banned by the Nazi authorities. Other members of Eva’s family also escaped Vienna and settled in England, and their shared experiences later influenced Eva’s writing, with the themes of home, refugees and immigration running through her books. Eva attended the prestigious Dartington Hall School, before studying Physiology at Cambridge University. After realising a career in science wasn’t for her; she retrained as a teacher. Eva didn’t start writing until she was in her thirties and her first children’s book, The Great Ghost Rescue, was published in 1975 when she was fifty years old. Despite her late literary start, Eva went on to write more than twenty books for children and won the Smarties Prize for her novel Journey to the River Sea in 2001. She died at her home in Newcastle in 2010, aged eighty-five.
Eva Ibbotson books for middle-grade readers
Eva Ibbotson’s fantasy stories are great for fans of magic, witches and wizards and Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor series. Here are just a few of her best-loved middle-grade books.
The Secret of Platform 13
Set on an island with magical inhabitants that can only be reached through a secret door at London’s King’s Cross Station once every nine years, The Secret of Platform 13 is a fantasy adventure story for children aged 9-12, but beloved by all ages. Readers will root for the motley crew of ogres, ghosts and harpies as they embark on a mission to find the island’s lost prince and bring him back home.
Journey to the River Sea
This award-winning book has everything Ibbotson’s stories are best known for: an epic journey into the unknown, memorable characters, and a fantastic setting. The tale of a young girl who is tragically orphaned and sent to live with distant relatives in the depths of the Amazon jungle, Journey to the River Sea is filled with mystery and fun.
A great chapter book for independent readers, this story of an evil wizard who embarks on a search for a suitably fiendish witch to be his wife is full of magical trickery.
The Great Ghost Rescue
A spooky story without the scary bits for fantasy fans of all ages! In this classic tale of good against evil, skeleton Humphrey the Horrible wishes he was as ghastly as his siblings, but when he foils a plot to hurt his family he discovers that he doesn’t have to be terrifying to be a hero.
Eva Ibbotson books for YA readers
Although best known for her books for children, Eva Ibbotson also wrote several historical romance novels. These novels are perfect for older teenagers and romantics alike.
The Morning Gift
A novel about displacement, love, and belonging, set against the backdrop of the outbreak of WWII. Charting the tale of Ruth, an eighteen-year-old woman who is forced to choose between love and being reunited with her family, and the consequences of her decision, and set in Vienna and in London, Ibbotson drew on her family’s own experience as wartime refugees for The Morning Gift.
The Secret Countess
When the 1917 revolution tears Russia apart, young countess Anna Grazinsky has to say goodbye to her grand home in St Petersburg and embark on a new life as a housekeeper in England. Hired to maintain the Earl of Westerholme’s crumbling mansion, Anna settles into her new world, until the day the young Earl returns from the war, and a spark is ignited.
A Song for Summer
A novel for anyone who dreams of an adventure working abroad, A Song for Summer is the story of Ellen Carr, who leaves behind her dreary 1930’s London life to take a job as a housekeeper at a boarding school in the mountains of Austria. Set at the onset of the Second World War, and filled with period details, this is a sweeping romantic story about how love can triumph in the toughest of circumstances.
For kids who love The Secret of Platform 13, return to the Island of Mist in Beyond Platform 13, the brand new adventure and sequel to Eva Ibbotson’s much-loved original.
Beyond Platform 13 by Sibéal Pounder
In this new story, prize-winning children’s author Sibéal Pounder takes young readers on a brand new adventure with Odge Gribble, Ben and the rest of the gang (via Platform 13 of course).
Here, Sibéal tells us how much she loved The Secret of Platform 13 as a child, and what inspired her to write the sequel:
I still have my tattered old copy of The Secret of Platform 13 with my name carefully written in the corner. It was a world I adored as a child and when I was asked to write the sequel, the first character that popped into my head was Odge Gribble. She is a hag, though an ordinary one who looks human and wishes that she could have warts and impressive ear hair like her hag sisters. I love how Eva plays with perceptions of beauty so hilariously, and how she twists stereotypical fantasy characters for comedic effect. It’s something that has greatly influenced my work. In the case of Odge it goes further than merely being a funny play on a hag character, it’s also a commentary on beauty standards and how we can all be made to feel less than if it is decided there is one way to look.
In The Secret of Platform 13, Eva created an island, the Island of Mist, where all who found it were welcome and they could call it home. I loved that the royal family of the island were human – it wasn’t just a place for magical beings, like most other magical worlds – it was for everyone and every child who read it. What Eva created was a tiny inclusive island, built on a childhood of witnessing the extreme opposite. When she was a young girl in Austria the Nazis seized power and she and her parents escaped to the UK. Home is a strong theme in her books and I wanted the sequel to explore what it means to call somewhere home, who gets to decide and what can happen if we let such decisions fall into the wrong hands. And of course, if you are open and welcoming like the creatures on the Island of Mist, treasures like Eva arrive and make your little island far more magical than it ever was before.
Sibéal will be discussing re-imagining Eva’s world of mist-makers and magic at the Returning to Other Worlds event with Hilary McKay, Amy Wilson and Robin Stevens at Waterstones Piccadilly on 15th October 2019. Find out more here.
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