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...