She's a skilful and sparkling writer. Her heroines and heroes are likeable and original, and display great qualities like loyalty and courage. Their stories begin in ordinary places like British boarding schools of the best story-book kind, but end up in far-off locations like Austria and the Amazon, where they escape from deliciously villainous villains, stage daring rescues, and explore mysterious places. Here are two of my favourite passages from Journey to the River Sea:
'Come along, it's time we opened my trunk.'
Miss Minton had been poor all her life. She had no trinkets, no personal possessions; her employers underpaid her when they paid her at all - but her trunk was an Aladdin's cave. There were travel books and fairy tales, novels and dictionaries and collections of poetry...
'How did you get them all?' Maia asked wonderingly. 'How did you manage?'
Miss Minton shrugged.
'If you want something enough you usually get it. But you have to take what goes with it,' - and she pointed to her shabby blouse and mended skirt.
I learned some wisdom from that quote. And this one:
'I have looked after some truly dreadful children in my time and it was easy not to get fond of them. After all, a governess is not a mother. But Maia...well, I'm afraid I grew to love her. And that meant I began to think what I would do if she was my child.'
'And you would let her-' began Mr Murray.
But Miss Minton stopped him. 'I would let her... have adventures. I would let her... choose her path. It would be hard... it was hard... but I would do it. Oh, not completely, of course. Some things have to go on. Cleaning one's teeth, arithmetic. But Maia fell in love with the Amazon. It happens. The place was for her - and the people. Of course there was some danger, but there is danger everywhere. Two years ago, in this school, there was an outbreak of typhus and three girls died. Children are knocked down and killed by horses every week, here in these streets.' She broke off, gathering her thoughts. 'When she was travelling and exploring... and finding her songs Maia wasn't just happy; she was... herself. I think something broke in Maia when her parents died, and out there it was healed. Perhaps I'm mad...but I think children must lead big lives... if it is in them to do so.'
From Journey to the River Sea pages 49, 294.