Eva Ibbotson (1925-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
Born 1925, in Vienna, Austria; Education: Bedford College, London, B.Sc., 1945; attended Cambridge University, 1946-47; University of Durham, diploma in education, 1965. Hobbies and other interests: Ecology and environmental preservation, music, continental literature, history ("My favorite period is 1904!").
Agent—Curtis Brown, 162-168 Regent St., London W1R 5TA, England; John Cushman Associates Inc., 25 West 42nd St., New York, NY 10036.
Full-time writer. Former research worker, university teacher, and schoolteacher.
Carnegie Medal shortlist, British Library Association, 1979, for Which Witch?, and 2001, for Journey to the River Sea; Best Romantic Novel of the Year Published in England, Romantic Novelists Association, 1983, for Magic Flutes; Smarties Prize Shortlist, and Best Books designation, School Library Journal, 1998, for The Secret of Platform 13; Guardian Children's Fiction Award runner-up, and Whitbread Children's Book of the Year award shortlist, and Smarties Prize shortlist, all 2001, all for Journey to the River Sea.
The Great Ghost Rescue, illustrated by Simon Stern, Macmillan (London, England), 1975, illustrated by Giulio Maestro, Walck, 1975, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, Dutton (New York, NY), 2002.
Which Witch?, illustrated by Annabel Large, Macmillan (London, England), 1979, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1988.
The Worm and the Toffee-nosed Princess, and Other Stories of Monsters (folklore), illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain, Macmillan (London, England), 1983, illustrated by Russell Ayto, Hodder Children's (London, England), 1997.
The Haunting of Hiram C. Hopgood, Macmillan (London, England), 1987, published as The Haunting of Granite Falls, Dutton (New York, NY), 2004.
Not Just a Witch, illustrated by Alice Englander, Macmillan (London, England), 1989, Chivers North America, 1992.
The Secret of Platform 13, illustrated by Sue Porter, Macmillan (London, England), 1994, Dutton (New York, NY), 1998.
Dial-a-Ghost, illustrated by Kirsten Meyer, Macmillan (London, England), 1996, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, Dutton (New York, NY), 2001.
Monster Mission, illustrated by Teresa Sdralevich, Macmillan (London, England), 1999, published as Island of the Aunts, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, Dutton (New York, NY), 2000.
Journey to the River Sea, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, Dutton (New York, NY), 2001.
The Star of Kazan, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, Dutton (New York, NY), 2004.
A Countess below Stairs, MacDonald (London, England), 1981, Avon (New York, NY), 1982.
Magic Flutes, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1982.
A Glove Shop in Vienna and Other Stories, Century (London, England), 1984, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1992.
A Company of Swans, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1985.
Madensky Square, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1988.
The Morning Gift, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1993.
A Song for Summer, Arrow (London, England), 1997, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Linda Came Today (television drama), ATV, 1965.
Contributor of hundreds of articles and stories to periodicals. Works have been anthologized in books, including Yearbook of the American Short Story.
Dial-a-Ghost, The Great Ghost Rescue, The Haunting of Hiram C. Hopgood, Not Just a Witch, The Secret of Platform 13, and Which Witch? have all been released on audiocassette.
Vienna-born British writer Eva Ibbotson works in two markedly different areas of fiction: tongue-in-cheek ghost stories for a young-adult audience; and adult romances that are frequently set in her hometown during the early part of the twentieth century. Of this dual career, she herself once said, "After years of writing magazine stories and books for children, I am trying hard to break down the barrier between 'romantic novels' and 'serious novels' which are respectfully reviewed." Certainly no one would accuse her of being too serious in her ghost stories, which are written in a "spirit" of great fun. As Horn Book reviewer Kitty Flynn explained, "Ibbotson's vivid descriptions of the gruesome and grotesque will delight readers, and even the ghastliest of her spectral characters manages to be likable." Still, the smooth, easy flow of her supernatural tales, which has won Ibbotson praise from many critics, fits well with the second half of her stated desires as a novelist: "My aim is to produce books that are light, humorous, even a little erudite, but secure in their happy endings. One could call it an attempt to write, in words, a good Viennese waltz!"
Growing up in Austria, Ibbotson moved with her family to England after the Nazis took power during the 1940s. She got her degree at the University of London and intended to become a physiologist, although the amount of animal experimentation required of this career path soon caused her to change her mind. Instead, she got married and raised a family. She returned to school and earned a degree in education in the mid-1960s. One of her first written works was the television play Linda Came Today, produced by ATV in 1965; her first children's book The Great Ghost Rescue, was published a decade later, in 1975, and she has been writing ever since.
Ibbotson's books for younger readers have gained her a large following among both British and American readers due to her imaginative plots and clever dialogue. Reviewing The Great Ghost Rescue, a critic noted in Growing Point that the author develops "a gloriously improbable situation with an inexhaustible provision of verbal wit." Noting Ibbotson's penchant for flouting "political correctness," the contributor also noted that she pokes fun at "some of the more lumbering conservation-sermons disguised as fiction which are currently being offered to young readers." The novel focuses on Rick Henderson, a serious-minded boarding-school student concerned about the environment, who sees the ghosts in the story as something of an endangered species and sets about to help them. Humphrey the Horrible, in particular, needs help, because he lacks the ability to frighten the students at Rick's boarding school, and he is joined in seeking Rick's help by family members Headless Aunt Hortensia and George the Screaming Skull, among others. Noting that the story has "considerable appeal," School Library Journal contributor Steven Engelfried added that the novel benefits from Ibbotson's "deliciously consistent macabre humor and the entertaining ensemble of ghosts" she conjures up with her pen. According to Ann A. Flowers in Horn Book, "The delightfully horrid details and the richly comic assortment of ghosts make [The Great Ghost Rescue] an amusing and satisfying story."
Which Witch? is the story of a competition between witches eager to become the bride of the wicked wizard of the North, Arridian. A reviewer in Junior Bookshelf praised the novel, noting that Ibbotson's writing is so visual and evocative that, "With all respect to [illustrator] Annabel Large, illustrations are superfluous." Dial-a-Ghost finds Ibbotson on similar ground as it relates the activities surrounding a ghost placement agency. "There are plenty of bloodstains and creepy crawlies," promised a reviewer in Junior Bookshelf, "and many rather grotesque humans who help to make the ghosts seem normal."
Ghosts faced the problem of relocation in The Great Ghost Rescue and they encounter a similar situation in The Haunting of Hiram C. Hopgood, published in the United States as The Haunting of Granite Falls. Hop-good, a Texas oil magnate, wants to buy an English castle and bring it home with him, and twelve-year-old Alex MacBuff, an orphan who can no longer afford to keep up his ancestral home, is happy to sell it. The only problem is that Hopgood demands that the castle arrive in Texas ghost-free, and Alex has to figure out a way to negotiate with the ghosts, which include a Viking warrior, a toothless vampire named Stanislaus, and a hell-hound. Along the way, he has an innocent romance with Hopgood's ten-year-old daughter Helen, whom the ghosts assist when she is kidnapped. "This combination of farce and fantasy," wrote Elizabeth Finlayson in School Librarian, "has much to offer besides a thoroughly enjoyable story." Noting that the story "gives new meaning to the term 'blended family,'" Horn Book contributor Kristi Elle Jemtegaard praised the author's "knack for vivid detail" and noted that in The Haunting of Granite Falls "The comfort of a happy ending is never in doubt."
Not Just a Witch, like Which Witch?, concerns a competition between witches, but this time the rivalry is between two former friends who have a silly falling out over a hat. Dora and Heckie—short for Hecate—compete with each other to see who can rid a town of the most evil. Employing a classic remedy, Dora turns problem personalities into stone, but Heckie is more imaginative: she transforms her town's evildoers into caged zoo animals. When their private competition is discovered by an entrepreneurial furrier named Lionel Knapsack, the battle between the witches is cooperated: wooing Heckie with chocolate, Lionel plans to turn a whole prison full of inmates into snow leopards, a creature whose fur is highly marketable. Noting that Not Just a Witch deals with the perennial battle between good and evil, a Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "Ibbotson again blends hilarious social commentary … into a potent recipe for fun."Most of Ibbotson's early supernatural tales involve ghosts or witches, but The Secret of Platform 13 constitutes somewhat of a departure. Next to Platform 13, in an old subway station—or Tube station, as they are called in London—is a gate into a mythic underworld of wizards and fairies. The gate only opens once every nine years, and a spoiled, selfish woman named Larina Trottle takes advantage of this opportunity to kidnap the child prince from the other world and bring him back to London. The denizens of the underworld have to come up to the surface and find their boy and rescue him, which they do with the help of Larina's son Ben. Ben, as it turns out, is lovable and kind, whereas Raymond, the boy they are searching for, has become a little tyrant under Larina's care. Praising the book as "Fast, fun," and "full of bizarre characters and ideas," a reviewer in Books for Keeps dubbed The Secret of Platform 13 "a real imagination tickler" with a surprise ending.
In contrast to Ibbotson's ghost stories, her adult novels, such as Magic Flutes, Madensky Square, and The Morning Gift, are much "quieter" books, though nonetheless imbued with the author's good humor and wit. Madensky Square, like most of the others, takes place in Vienna—in this case, the Vienna of 1911, which is yet un-sullied by World War I. The story of Susanna, a dressmaker whose shop opens onto the quiet square, is told through her diary, in which she reveals a number of surprising details, including an ongoing affair with a nobleman. "This refreshing novel in which the heroine overcomes hardship [and] sticks to her ideals, [is] carried off without sticky sentimentality," wrote a critic in Publishers Weekly. In a similar vein, Ibbotson's children's book Journey to the River Sea takes place in 1910 and focuses on a young girl who is un-haunted by ghosts of any kind. Instead of spectres, orphaned Maia Fielding is troubled by her new guardians, the Carters, who bring her to live with them on their poorly run rubber plantation in Brazil, where they live while pretending they are back in England. Escaping the confines of the Carter's home, Maia meets new friends and discovers a new world in the exotic Amazon rainforest around her. In addition to becoming enmeshed in the investigations of a pair of British detectives, Maia also discovers her life's calling: to be an explorer. Noting that the author "does a wonderful job of turning genre themes topsy-turvy," Booklist contributor Jean Franklin praised Ibbotson's "plucky" protagonist and her "delightfully humorous style." Journey to the River Sea is a novel "rich in drama, suspense, hints of romance, and a sense of justice," added Jean Gaffney in a review for School Library Journal, the critic going on to praise Ibbotson for bringing Brazil's "natural beauty and the time period … to life."
In addition to humor and a fast-moving story, all of Ibbotson's books are united by her creation of a spirited protagonists, many of whom have talents that are overlooked by those around them. "Every kid wants to believe that he or she is special and hopes that someone out there will recognize their hidden talents and uniqueness, qualities that, too often, adults do fail to see," commented Jeannette Hulick in a profile of Ibbotson for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Online. "In the words of Aunt Etta of Island of the Aunts, 'You'd be surprised. There are children all over the place whose parents don't know how lucky they are.' Fortunately, in Ibbotson's worlds, kids do find confirmation that they are, in fact, extraordinary people."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Ibbotson, Eva, Island of the Aunts, Dutton (New York, NY), 2000.
Booklist, January 1, 1985, p. 620; June 15, 1985, p. 1435; September 15, 1988, p. 120; August, 1993, p. 2036; December 15, 2001, Jean Franklin, review of Journey to the River Sea, p. 727; May 1, 2004, Kay Weisman, review of The Haunting of Granite Falls, p. 1559.
Books for Keeps, November, 1995, review of The Secret of Platform 13, p. 11.
Growing Point, November, 1979, p. 3598; April, 1975, review of The Great Ghost Rescue, p. 2599.
Horn Book, December, 1975, Ann A. Flowers, review of The Great Ghost Rescue, pp. 593-594; January-February, 2002, Christine M. Heppermann, review of Journey to the River Sea, p. 78; September-October, 2002, Kitty Flynn, review of The Great Ghost Rescue, p. 574; July-August, 2004, Kristi Elle Jemtegaard, review of The Haunting of Granite Falls, p. 453.
Junior Bookshelf, October, 1979, review of Which Witch?, p. 279; October, 1987, p. 235; February, 1990, review of Not Just a Witch, p. 27; October, 1996, review of Dial-a-Ghost, pp. 202-203.
Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 1985, p. 492; June 1, 1993, pp. 678-679; January 1, 1998, p. 57; June 15, 2003, review of Not Just a Witch, p. 859.
Publishers Weekly, October 13, 1975, p. 111; October 26, 1984, p. 96; May 31, 1985, p. 46; September 2, 1988, review of Madensky Square, p. 86; July 19, 1993, p.238; July 21, 2003, review of Not Just a Witch, p. 195.
School Librarian, September, 1980, p. 266; February, 1988, Elizabeth Finlayson, review of The Haunting of Hiram C. Hopgood, p. 28.
School Library Journal, May, 1975, p. 70; January, 2002, Jean Gaffney, review of Journey to the River Sea, p.132; August, 2002, Steven Engelfried, review of The Great Ghost Rescue, p. 189.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Online, http://www.lis.uiuc.edu/puboff/bccb/ (March 1, 2002), Jeannette Hulick, "Eva Ibbotson."
Penguin Putnam Web site, http://www.penguinputnam.com/ (December 2, 2004).*