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The book follows the adventures of Maia, a young orphan, who is sent by her guardian to live with distant cousins on the banks of the Amazon, near Manaus in Brazil.  Her vision of a new life experiencing  the sights, smells and sounds of the rainforest is dashed when she discovers that her relatives have no wish to integrate with the local environment and spend their days locked in their sterile house, keeping bugs and germs at bay. Through her relationship with her more adventurous English governess and the son of a deceased naturalist, she gradually begins to explore her surroundings and passions. In the final chapters she reluctantly returns to England and her former school … or is there a further twist? This exciting adventure explores the theme of new beginnings and the fear and anticipation of the unknown, as well as inviting the reader to share in the strange but exciting world of the Amazon rainforest.  Eva Ibbotson wrote ‘Journey’ following the death of her naturalist husband and the book is an affectionate tribute to his memory.


Maia, our heroine, is a young girl living in a posh but pleasant boarding school in Mayfair. The year is 1910, and following the death of her parents the family lawyer, Mr Murray, has located some distant relatives living in the heart of the Amazon basin who are willing to take Maia in – in return for a share of her inherited fortune. Following a long journey across the Atlantic, during which she meets and befriends a young actor named Clovis King, Maia and her Governess Miss Minton reach the home of Mr and Mrs Carter and their twin daughters, Beatrice and Gwendoline. Far from the idyllic world of adventure and discovery Maia had imagined, the Carters turn out to be small-minded, mean and greedy people, shut away from the wonders of the outside world and only interested in the allowance they are paid each month by Mr Murray. Just as Maia begins to wonder how she can possibly survive trapped in this awful house and unable to explore the wonders of the jungle around her, she happens across a half-English, half-Brazilian boy named Finn Taverner. Finn is being chased by Private Detectives (nicknamed ‘the Crows’) looking to take him to England as the rightful heir to the oppressive Westwood, a stately home owned by his Grandfather which, to a boy who was raised finding rare plants and living off the land in the Amazonian jungle, seems more like a prison than a home.

With the help of Clovis, Miss Minton, the local museum curator Professor Glastonberry and a host of other friends, Maia and Finn come up with a plan to trick the Crows and allow Finn to travel up the river in search of his mother’s tribe. But an unexpected turn of events threatens to reveal Finn’s true identity and puts Maia’s life in danger…

Reader's Reviews


This is a fantastically written book, a real page-turner full of twists and turns to keep the reader interested. Eva Ibbotson introduces us to the mysterious and beautiful world of the Amazon Basin with wonderfully vivid descriptions of the sights and sounds of the jungle, and each character is so well developed it is as if they were standing right in front of you.

I must confess that after the first fifty pages or so I was sure I had figured out the story; I knew what was coming, how the storyline would go, and wasn’t really looking forward to continuing with the rest of the book. How wrong I was! There are so many surprises in the plot that you never know what is coming next, but the one thing you can be sure of is that you want to keep on reading to find out.

Maia is a kind, intelligent and endearing character who captures the heart of the reader with her soft nature. When she is miserable you feel like you want to jump on the first boat to Brazil and put your arm around her; when she is happy, your heart does a little dance and a broad smile forms on your lips. Like me, you will find yourself quietly cursing the Twins for being so mean to her, and secretly begging Finn to take her with him on his adventure up the River Sea.

I would heartily recommend this book to any competent readers from Year 5 upwards or as a read aloud for those a bit younger.


Many children like books that have story lines that involve mystery and adventure. Some girls will like books which have a romantic storyline and some of you young female readers will like the notion of being swept away into a different world. So what may you say if I could point you to a book that encompasses all that? Journey to River Sea does. Let me tell you about it and the author.

Journey to River Sea tells the tale of a girl called Maia, who orphaned two years ago, is told in the first chapter of the book that she shall be embarking on an adventure to the depths of the Amazon. Maia then travels across seas and oceans and along rivers, making friends and acquiring knowledge along the way. Upon her arrival in Manaus, Brazil, the excitement of her journey leave Maia and the reader with high expectations of her life in the Amazon. It’s here that the story gains a sense of adventure and where a passion for life and mystery develop.

Eva Ibbotson is a truly descriptive author who uses words and phrases to add depth to her stories. It is through this description that she interacts with the reader and allows them to join in her in the telling of the story by creating their own images. Her reluctance to use imagery really allows for creative development within children of all ages who are either reading independently or who are experiencing the story from a bedtime point of view.

Journey to River Sea is just one of a large number of works written by Eva Ibbotson. As a book this one is truly magnificent and I can assure you as that it is one book which will leave you wanting to read more and more and that Eva Ibbotson will start featuring on any child or adults bookcase more and more frequently.


Here are some themes from the book:

Nature and Naturalists

This book is packed with vivid descriptions of the Amazon world that Maia finds herself in, following her parents’ death. Ibbotson presents us with contrasting views, the Carters opinion of the ‘green hell’ in which they live, starkly differs from the wild beauty that Maia experiences. It is suggested people make what they wish of the jungle, if they see it as an enemy encroaching upon their territory, then that is what it will become. For Maia, Miss Minton and Finn however, the jungle becomes a retreat from the cruelty of humanity, as all three have suffered at the hands of society.

Morals and Colonialism

Morals, and the struggle against immorality, are a constant feature of the text. Maia is forced to endure the cruelty and selfishness of the Carter family. From the twins who mock Maia, to the Mrs Carter who lies in order to prevent Maia be taken to see Clovis in his play, to Mr Carter who chooses to rescue his glass eyeball collection in preference to his ward when the house is set alight. Colonialism is closely tied to morality, as every character with moral fibre is a champion for the natives whilst the immoral characters persecute and patronise them. It transpires that the Carter household is built upon the resting place for a holy man, which Carter had torn down in order that he may build his bungalow. He cheated this land from the ‘Indians’ whom he did not pay, breaking his oath to leave the resting place undisturbed. Maia, Finn, Miss Minton and the Professor go to live with the Xanti, who are the tribe of Finn’s mother, and they learn many secrets of the forest from them. There is the sense that they are learning more from the Xanti than they teach them, adding a very anti-colonial flavour to the text.

Suitability for Primary

This book is very suitable for a slightly older primary class such as Year 4 or 5 as though it does not present overly challenging themes and issues for a class, the language is quite rich and complex. This book would complement a topic on the Rainforest or South America and could produce some very attractive displays of rainforest creatures.


This book is fantastically devised adventure throughout. Maia is the main character, she is likeable, relatable and fun. I would want to be her friend! The rest of the characters are well created and interesting. The book includes wonderful descriptions of the Amazon River and rainforest, which make the imagination go wild. The book is written well and keeps the reader engaged throughout. I would recommend this book not only for 9-12 year olds but also adults. The style of writing Ibbotson uses creates the feeling of mysterious, exhilaration and adventure, which builds throughout the story. I think the book is brilliant for developing children’s imagination. I would highly recommend this book - I enjoyed reading it so much I went out and bought a further two books by Ibbotson.


This story follows a young girl, Maia, who is made to move to the Amazon to live with long lost family members, the Carters. Maia is excited about the Amazon and as she travels up the river to the Carters home she falls in love with the nature around her, she longs to explore this new world and learn as much as she can. She soon begins to learn that the Carter’s are not as they appear and they mistreat her. Maia’s only friends are the boy she met on the ship to Manaus, Clovis, and a strange Indian boy who saved her when she lost. Maia’s life then focusses around trying to find this Indian boy to learn who he is, and to help Clovis get back to England. Maia discovers that the Indian boy is called Finn she learns that he is an heir to a wealthy estate back in England but he doesn’t want to return. Maia helps Finn prepare for his journey along the River to find his mother’s family and the 3 children devise a plan that will let both boys have what they want. With the help of other characters the children’s plan falls into place but with an unexpected twist!

This book is suitable for a higher KS2 class, in which it can be used for individual reading, class reading, helping with story writing and how to create strong images using language. This book could be used parallel to other topics of study at school such as Rivers or Exotic Countries, or used to learn about how different communities and families and live.

‘Journey to the River Sea’ by Eva Ibbotson

This book is a beautifully written adventure story about Maia, an orphan travelling to the Amazon to live with long lost members of her family. Along the way, we are introduced to a rich variety of characters such as Miss Minton who is Maia’s governess, Clovis the travelling actor, the dreadful Carters and the mysterious Finn who lives in the Amazon. The Story includes a number of coinciding plots to excite the reader and provoke predictions of what the outcome will be to these.


I recommend the book for children in key stage 2 as the themes are more suitable to this age range and their reading ability. The book lends itself extremely well to cross curricular uses such as in Geography for a study of the Amazon and transport. Also the delightful description Ibbotson uses throughout is a great stimulus for thinking about the use of language in fiction. The poignant themes within the book such as friendship, family, following your dreams and being brave are lovely to discuss with the children to get them thinking about themselves in the wider context.


Journey to the River Sea, written by Eva Ibbotson, is set at the turn of the 20th Century, and tells the enchanting tale of an orphaned girl, Maia, who is whisked away from London, on a journey to the Amazon Rainforest. Awaiting her there are her remaining relatives, who are not what they seem, and a journey of a lifetime.

The theme of new beginnings and friendship will strike a chord with those children, boys and girls alike, who have just started school and can empathise with Maia’s uncertainty and excitement. The success of the book lies in the fantastical, yet realistic storyline and the kind of characters children and adults can identify with; from the stern, yet maternal governess Miss Minton, to the jealous twins.

For teachers looking to use the book in lessons, the rich descriptions and vivid imagery allow for the imagination to wander, and enable pupils to create a picture in their mind, which they can then utilise in art lessons, or creative writing lessons. Similarly, studying the history or geography of the South American area with this book in mind brings a character and the subject to life.

Whether you are reading this book to a child or reading it yourself, the richly descriptive narrative and compelling characters allow you to delve into an unknown world full of adventure and discovery, which will inspire at any age. The journey of discovery is one that will appeal to all, with new friendships cropping up in unlikely places, surprising twists and turns in the plot, and an ending that will leave you wanting more. AJG.

A young girl named Maia is forced to leave the place she has called home since the tragic death of her parents. Leaving the boarding school, her friends and her teachers does not terrify Maia, but excites her. Maia is travelling with her governess to live with her distant relatives in South America. When Maia discovers that her home will be on the Amazon she embraces the situation as an adventure. On the way she meets a boy who becomes a wonderful friend. At her new home Maia feels less than welcomed by her two bitter and jealous cousins who do not care for their surroundings. Maia has a desire to explore this unknown exciting part of the world though, and on doing so meets an unusual intriguing boy, Together they set out on a journey of discovery to an unknown curious place. Suitable: 10+ If you are drawn into this book, then you may also enjoy another of Eva Ibbotson’s books. The Dragonfly Pool and The Star of Kazan.

When young orphan Maia is sent away from her script English school she can only dream of the adventures that will take place. Arriving on the river bank of the Amazon she meets her new family for the first time; distant cousins who turn out to not at all what Maia was hoping for. With no intent on mixing with the locals, the Carters shatter the dreams of Maia who could not wait to have a family again and enjoy the sights and sounds that the Amazonian jungle has to offer. However, with the help of the venturesome Miss Minton and other fascinating characters along the way, Maia gets all of the adventure she could hope for.

This book is packed full of adventure and mystery allowing the reader to play detective along the way. Ibbotson describes the Amazonian colours, scents and sounds beautifully, allowing the reader to evoke the sense of awe that Maia feels throughout.

The book would be ideal for readers of 8 plus as it touches on core values such as tolerance, acceptance, trust and loyalty but also hints at deeper issues such as race intolerance. There is something for everyone in this book, give it a read and find out for yourself!


This book is aimed for children of higher Key Stage 2 students, preferably Year 5 and Year 6. The use of language and the context of the story; allows for the more mature primary student to explore the key meanings and messages behind it.

Journey to the River Sea is based upon a young girl called Maia, who through the death of her parents is forced to move to the Amazon and consequently, her whole world is turned upside down. Within the story, we follow Maia through a series of positive and negative events, which provide a strong set of clear morals and deeper meanings.

Characters within the story help to provide an insight about the different cultures and lifestyles that exist within the world. The book explores the experiences of moving to a completely new area and culture, whilst recognising the issues that may be faced. This may also be relevant for when we travel to different places on holiday and understanding different cultures. We are witness to how the characters cope with the change, or in some cases don’t cope and how Maia begins to explore. As expected the story also relates to the changes in friendships and relationships. Maia experiences both differing feelings through her unfair and distant family, alongside some enjoyable, close friendships.

Throughout Maia’s journey, the constant relation to the different cultures within the world remains prominent through Maia’s explorations. We begin to discover the love of natural beauty and a way of life, which is far beyond what we are used to within today’s culture. The excitement of Maia’s story is brought through the exploration and discovery of nature and lifestyle, that some may not know even existed. Wild forests, animals, tribes and families living in the woods, in tiny huts.

As the story develops, we begin to learn about some of the deeper morals and meanings behind the book, such as greed and unfairness. Through the events of a formerly wealthy family, we witness how treating people with lack of respect and being selfish, can consequently result in disastrous circumstances. The story allows us to listen to those who are victim to such unfairness and therefore, starts to imbed an understanding about how the impact of peoples’ actions, can hurt others. In contrast to this, Maia also delves into a life that is surrounded by trust, love and respect which in turn, reaps the benefits through her great friendships.

Although we discuss the deeper meanings of this story, it is in general an exciting story which explores the depths of our own imagination, alongside reality. The language may often be challenging, however this forces the individual to experience the story by thinking about the descriptions used. This is an overall enjoyable book, with a happy but realistic ending for us to enjoy.

Parental Guidance

  • Reading Age: 10+
  • Reading Aloud Age: 8+

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