Eva Ibbotson's The Secret of Platform 13 is a magical romp with creatures almost crawling out of the woodwork - or sewers, in the case of the merrow. Written a few years ahead of JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, readers will wonder if she read Ibbotson's book as she was writing her own. There is a downtrodden but kind hearted orphan boy, an obnoxious mother and her spoiled son and, of course, a magical train platform. And, while the similarities between the Trottles and their treatment of Ben over their birth child, Raymond, are strikingly similar to the Dursleys, Dudley and their abuse of Harry, the precise coincidences end there. Ibbotson, as gifted a writer as Rowling, keeps her writing grounded in the realm of children's literature and is really more reminiscent of classic children's writers like the wonderful Edward Eager (Half Magic) who's works were first published in the 1950s and the magnificent E Nesbit, who published most of her books in the early 1900s. Like Roald Dahl, who's books can also be read as a social commentary at times, Ibbotson's writing does not have multiple layers of meaning. She clearly delights in thinking up magical creatures and placing them in sticky situations more than pondering the forces of good and evil and the nature of humanity.
Ibbotson's other books reviewed here include: Journey to the River Sea, a marvelous book with an English orphan with prickly relatives living in the Amazon rain forest who take her in and the gorgeously magical Island of the Aunts, which has cover images for all of her books for young readers.