• Happy birthday Robert Newton Peck (A Day No Pigs Would Die, Soup), Susan Beth Pfeffer (Life As We Knew It), and Michael McCurdy (American Tall Tales).
  • It’s the birth date of Dorothy Canfield Fisher (1879–1958), Understood Betsy, Virginia Sorensen (1912–1991), Miracles on Maple Hill and Chaim Potok (1929–2002), The Chosen.
  • It’s Random Acts of Kindness Day. Share your favorite book with a friend. Or read The Kindness Quilt by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace.
  • In 1968 the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame was founded in Springfield, Masachusetts. Read The Basketball Hall of Fame’s Hoop Facts and Stats by Alex Sachare.

Last weekend Carnival took place  in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. One of the last great folk festivals, the event continued until Shrove Tuesday. If, like me, you’d love to attend but missed it this year, pick up the book of the day, Eva Ibbotson’s Journey to the River Sea, to celebrate Brazil and its people.

Born in Austria, Eva Ibbotson traveled between homes in Edinburgh and Berlin as a child. While attending school at Cambridge University, she met and married Alan Ibbotson, a professor and entomologist who kept an ant nest under his bed. After he died, she wrote Journey to the River Sea in honor of him and his love of the natural world.

For this book she chose a fearless and sensitive orphan, Maia, as her protagonist. In 1910, accompanied by a fierce governess, Miss Minton, Maia gets sent to live with her aunt and uncle in Brazil. Although she imagines wild adventures on the Amazon, she finds that this family has done everything in its power to live like Englishmen in the midst of a jungle.

But everything changes when Maia follows a mysterious young boy and gets swept up into the adventure of her dreams. This boy, Finn, actually is a British heir who would rather live in the wild than be captured and sent back to his English estate. Maia also befriends Clovis, a young actor traveling in Brazil, and helps him find a home of his own. With lots of wicked characters and saintly figures, the book lovingly captures the flora and fauna of the Amazon. Maia adores the natural world around her, and every time she escapes to it readers feel they have entered paradise. She sounds, actually, a great deal like naturalist and explorer Baron von Humboldt did in his journal as he described the wonders of this very region in 1800.

Grounded in fine historical research, the book reads like an adventure and survival novel. Ideal for eight-year-olds and up, the book can be used as a read-aloud for families and in the classroom, or can be enjoyed in book discussion groups. Like all of Ibbotson books, Journey to the River Sea relies on a plot- and character-driven story that keeps readers enthralled until the final pages. And, of course, this queen of happy endings does not disappoint anyone as she wraps up the story.

Reading Journey to the River Sea is the next best thing to a trip down the Amazon. So I hope you pick it up, in honor of Carnival, or just because you enjoy an old-fashioned story, well told.

Here’s a passage from Journey to the River Sea:

“Thank you,” she said—in English, in Portuguese. She even remembered the word for “thank you” in the Indian language that the servants spoke. “I have to go to the theater. The Teatra Amazonas.”

He nodded and they glided on down the river. Sometimes they moved between lush green trees which leaned so far over the water that she felt as though they were traveling between the roots of the forest. Birds rose as they went past: scarlet ibis, white herons flapping in slow motion…. As they took a side branch of the river, Maia cried out because the boy was steering between gigantic leaves from which spotted frogs flopped into the water.


Originally posted February 17, 2012. Updated for .

Tags: 20th Century, Geography, Survival
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Journey to the River Sea


  1. Erika says:

    This sounds wonderful–I’m hoping my daughter begins to like Eva Ibbotson soon! She started Island of the Aunts last summer, got about 1/2 way through, then gave up. Somehow it just didn’t grab her. But after reading this description, I can see why Eva Ibbotson is Jane Penderwick’s favorite author…

  2. Anita says:

    Erika: That is a great catch — favorite Jane Penderwick book!

  3. Wendy says:

    You can’t imagine how true this book is to the Amazon. People ask me “Is it anything at all like she describes in JOURNEY TO THE RIVER SEA?” and I can say, truthfully, “It is EXACTLY like that.”

  4. I loved this book as a child! I devoured everything by Eva Ibbotson – she was one of my favorite authors, and still is. This book to me feels like a modern Rudyard Kippling, a sort of survival adventure story at the turn of the century. The setting is so lush and atmospheric. This is one of my favorite historical fiction reads!

  5. Marcela says:

    Anita, just wanted to thank you for introducing me to Eva Ibbotson- you wrote about another book of hers a while back, and even though I feel like I know a lot about children’s literature, I had never heard of her, but I made a note to look for her books for my eleven year old daughter. Now she is working through her whole section at the library and loving every one.

  6. Anita says:

    Marcela: Thanks so much for this report. One of the things I love about her work is how different every book is.

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