When the kindly old aunts decide that they need help caring for creatures who live on their hidden island, they know that adults can't be trusted. What they need are a few special children who can keep a secret-a secret as big as a magical island. And what better way to get children who can keep really big secrets, than to kidnap them! (After all, some children just plain need to be kidnapped.) Don't miss this wildly inventive and funny read from master storyteller Eva Ibbotson.
About the Author
Eva Ibbotson, born Maria Charlotte Michelle Wiesner (1925–2010), was an Austrian-born British novelist, known for her children's books. Some of her novels for adults have been successfully reissued for the young adult market in recent years. For the historical novel Journey to the River Sea (Macmillan, 2001), she won the Smarties Prize in category 9–11 years, garnered unusual commendation as runner-up for the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, and made the Carnegie Medal, Whitbread Award, and Blue Peter Book Award shortlists. She was a finalist for the 2010 Guardian Children's Fiction Prize at the time of her death. Her last book, The Abominables, was one of eight books on the longlist for the same award in 2012.
Kevin Hawkes is the author and illustrator of The Wicked Big Toddlah and The Wicked Big Toddlah Goes to New York, and is the illustrator of many well-loved books for young readers including Imagine That:! How Dr. Seuss Wrote the Cat in the Hat, Library Lion, My Little Sister Ate One Hare, My Little Sister Hugged an Ape, And to Think That We Thought That We'd Never Be Friends, The Road to Oz, Velma Gratch, and The Way Cool Butterfly. He lives in Gorham, Maine.
Read an Excerpt
Kidnapping children is not a good idea. All the same, sometimes it has to be done. Aunt Etta and Aunt Coral and Aunt Myrtle were not natural kidnappers. For one thing, they were getting old, and kidnapping is hard work; for another, though they looked a little odd, they were very caring people. They cared for their ancient father and for their shriveled cousin Sybil, who lived in a cave and tried to foretell the future -- and most particularly they cared for the animals on the island on which they lived, many of which were quite unusual.
Some of the creatures that made their way to the Island had come far across the ocean to be looked after, and lately the aunts had felt that they could not go on much longer without help. And "help" didn't mean grown-ups who were set in their ways. "Help" meant children who were young and strong and willing to learn.
So, on a cool, blustery day in April, the three aunts gathered round the kitchen table and decided to go ahead. Some children had to be found and they had to be brought to the island, and kidnapping seemed the only sensible way to do it.
"That way we can choose the ones who are suitable," said Aunt Etta. She was the eldest; a tall, bony woman who did fifty press-ups before breakfast and had a small but not at all unpleasant mustache on her upper lip.
The others looked out of the window at the soft green turf, the sparkling sea, and sighed, thinking of what had to be done. The sleeping powders, the drugged hamburgers, the bags and sacks and cello cases they would need to carry the children away in...
"Will they scream and wriggle, do you suppose?" asked Aunt Myrtle, who was the youngest. She suffered from headaches and hated noise.
"No, of course not. They'll be unconscious," said Aunt Etta. "Flat out. I don't like it any more than you do," she went on, "but you saw the program on TV last week."
The others nodded. When they first came to the Island, they hadn't had any electricity, but after his hundredth birthday their father's toes had started to turn blue because not enough blood got to his feet, and they had ordered a generator so he could have an electric blanket. After that they thought they might as well have an electric kettle, and then a TV.
But the TV had been a mistake because of the nature programs. Nature programs always end badly. First you see the hairy-nosed wombats frisking about with their babies, and then five minutes before the end you hear that there are only twelve breeding pairs left in the whole of Australia. Or there are pictures of the harlequin frogs of Costa Rica croaking away on their lily leaves, and the next minute you are told that they're doomed because their swamps are being drained. Worst of all are the rainforests. The aunts could never see a program about the rainforests without crying, and last week there had been a particularly bad one with wicked people burning and slashing the trees, and pictures of the monkeys and the jaguars rushing away in terror.
The others had seen the point at once. If a whole rainforest can become extinct, why not three elderly ladies? And if they became extinct, what would happen to their work and who would care for the creatures that came to the Island in search of comfort and care?
There was another thing that bothered the aunts. Lately the animals that came to the Island simply wouldn't go away again. Long after they were healed, they stayed on -- it was almost as if they knew something -- and that made more and more work for the aunts. There was no doubt about it, help had to be brought in, and quickly
So now they were deciding what to do.
"How do you find the right children?" asked Myrtle. She looked longingly out at the point where the seals were resting. One of the seals, Herbert, was her special friend, and she would very much rather have been out there playing her cello and singing her songs to him.
"We shall become Aunts," said Etta firmly, settling her spectacles on her long nose.
The others looked at her in amazement. "But we are aunts," they said. "How can we become them?"
This was true. There had been five sisters who had come to the Island with their father many years ago. they had found a ruined house and deserted beaches with only the footprints of sandpipers and herring gulls on the sand, and barnacle geese resting on the way from Greenland, and the seals, quite unafraid, coming out of the water to have their pups.
They had started to repair the house, and planted a garden, and then one day they had found an oiled seabird washed up on a rock.... Only it turned out not to be an oiled seabird. It was oiled all right, but it was something quite different -- and after that, they realized that they had been called to the Island by a Higher Power, and that they had found their life's work.
But one of the sisters, Betty, had not cared for the island. She hated the wind and the rain and the fish scales in her tea and the eider ducklings nesting in her bedroom slippers. She had gone away and got married to a tax inspector in Newcastle upon Tyne, and now she lived in a house with three kinds of toilet freshener in the loo and sprays to make her armpits smell nice and not a fish scale in sight.
But the point was that she had two children. They were horrible, but they were children. She called the boy Boo-Boo and the girl Little One (though they had proper names, of course). But horrible though they were, they were children, and because of this, her sisters had become aunts since all you have to do to become an aunt is have nephews and nieces.
Which is why now the sisters looked surprised and said: "But we are aunts."
"Not that kind," said Etta impatiently. "I mean the kind that live in an office or an agency and call themselves things like Useful Aunts or Universal Aunts or Aunts Inc. -- the kind that parents pay to take their children to school and to the dentist, or to sit with them when they are ill."
"Why don't the parents do it themselves?" asked Myrtle.
"Because they're too busy. People used to have real aunts and grandmothers and cousins to do it all, but now families are too small and real aunts go to dances and have boyfriends," said Etta, snorting.
Coral nodded her head. She was the arty one, a large plump person who fed the chickens in a feather boa and interesting jewelry, and at night by the light of the moon, she danced the tango.
"It's a good idea, she said. "You would be able to pick and choose the children -- you don't want to end up with a Boo-Boo or a Little One."
"Yes, but if the parents are truly fond of the children we shouldn't do it," said Myrtle, pushing back her long gray hair.
"Well, of course not," said Etta. "We don't want a hue and cry."
"But if the children are nice, the parents would be fond of them," said Myrtle. "And if they aren't, we don't want them either."
Etta sniffed. "You'd be surprised. There are children all over the place whose parents don't know how lucky they are."
They went on talking for a long time, but no one could think of anything better than Etta's plan -- not if the position of the Island was to be kept secret, and there was nothing more important than that.
There was one more aunt who would have been useful -- not the one with the three kinds of toilet freshener, who was of no use for anything -- but Aunt Dorothy, who was next in age to Etta and would have been just the sort of person to have on a kidnapping expedition. But Dorothy was in prison in Hong Kong. She had gone out there to stop a restaurant owner from serving pangolin steaks -- pangolins are beautiful, scaly mammals that are getting rare and should never be eaten -- and Dorothy had got annoyed and hit the restaurant owner on the head with his own wok, and they had put her in prison. She was due out in a month, but in the meantime only the three of them could go on the mission, and they weren't at all sure about Myrtle because she was not very good out in the world, and when she was away she always pined for Herbert.
"Are you sure you wouldn't rather stay behind, Myrtle?" said Coral now. But Myrtle had decided to be brave and said she thought that she should come along and do her bit.
"Only we won't say anything to Daddy," said Etta. "After all, kidnapping is a crime and he might worry."
Captain Harper lived upstairs in a big bed with a telescope, looking out to sea. They had mostly given up telling him things. For one thing, he was stone deaf so that explaining anything took a very long time, and for another, as soon as he saw anybody he started telling them stories about what life had been like when he was a boy. They were good stories but ever single aunt had heard them about three hundred times, so they didn't hang around if they could help it.
But they did go and tell the Sybil. She was the old cousin who had come to the Island soon after them. Sybil was bookish and one day she had read a book about Greek mythology and about a person called the Sybil (not just Sybil) who was a prophetess and could foretell the future. So she had started prophesying about the weather, mumbling on about depressions over Iceland and the windchill factor, and really she didn't get it wrong much more often than the weathermen on the telly. Then she had moved on to other things and had gone to live in a cave with bats because that was where prophetesses were supposed to live. She had stopped washing because she said washing would weaken her powers, so that she was another person one did not visit for too long.
When the aunts told her that they were going to the mainland to kidnap some children, the Sybil got quite excited. Her face turned blue and her hair began to stand on end, and for a moment they hoped she was going to tell them something important about the journey.
But it turned out that what she was foreseeing was squally showers, and what she said was "take seasick pills," which they had decided to do anyway for the boat.
They still had to make sure that their cook, who was called Art, knew exactly what to do while they were away on their mission. Art was an escaped convict who had been washed up in a rowing boat on their shore. He had killed a man when he was young, and now he wouldn't kill anything with arms or legs or eyes -- not even a shrimp -- but he made excellent porridge. Then they gathered together all the things they would need: chloroform and sleeping powders and anesthetizing darts, which they used for stunning animals that were injured so that they could set their limbs. All of them had things to carry the children away in: Aunt Etta had a canvas holdall, Aunt Coral had a tin trunk with holes bored into it, and Aunt Myrtle had her cello case. They waited for the wind to change so they could sail the Peggoty to the next island and catch the steamer; they were terribly excited.
It was a long and difficult journey -- many years ago the army had tried to use the Island for experiments in radio signals, and so to keep its position secret, they had changed the maps and forbidden boats to come near it. In the end the army hadn't used it after all, but it was still a forgotten place and the aunts meant to see that it stayed that way.
"Of course, it won't be a real kidnap because we shan't ask the parents for a ransom," said Etta.
"It'll be more of a child snatch," Coral agreed.
But whether it was a kidnap or a child snatch, it was still dangerous and wicked, and as they waved good-bye to the Island their hearts were beating very fast.
Reading Group Guide
Ghosts and hags, wizards and banshees, mermaids and mistmakers—all are part of the magical worlds that Eva Ibbotson creates in her fantasy books for children. Even her more realistic stories are set in exotic places like the Amazon River in South America, where the natural world creates a mystical sense of wonder. Ibbotson introduces us to an array of fascinating characters and creatures: some from real life, some from folklore and mythology, and some completely original. What readers discover in her books is a love for the natural world in all its forms, plus fast-moving plots that emphasize the importance of showing kindness to others and never being quick to judge those who are different from ourselves. Humor plays an important role in her stories, for they are meant to be entertaining above all. Yet long after the last page is turned, the deeper meanings that emerge from these rollicking adventures linger in the reader's mind.
About the Book
Island of the Aunts
Etta, Coral, and Myrtle tend to the needs of a number of remarkable creatures on the Island, a place forgotten by most people—and they are very happy to keep it that way. But the three sisters are getting on in years and need help caring for their assortment of seals, fish, mermaids, birds, and other sea creatures. So they decide to kidnap some children to be their assistants. Each poses as a hired "aunt" from a London agency, and soon they return to the Island with their stolen charges. Minette and Fabio, confused at first, grow to love the Island and its many unusual creatures. They keep putting off their escape back to their troubled homes. But Lambert, the boy Myrtle kidnapped, is a pampered brat who refuses to believe any of the Island's inhabitants actually exist. When Lambert uses his cell phone to call his father, the whole Island way of life is threatened by Mr. Sprott's scheme to turn the place into an amusement park. He doesn't reckon, however, on the power—and anger—of the most magical creature of all, a larger-than-life spirit of the sea, the kraken.
ABOUT EVA IBBOTSON
Eva Ibbotson was born in Vienna, Austria, in the years before World War II. Her mother was a playwright and her father a scientist, but the marriage was unhappy and they soon went their separate ways. Eva's early childhood was spent shuttling back and forth in trains across Europe, from one parent to the other. When Hitler rose to power, Eva's father went to Great Britain, and her mother, after remarriage to a Russian philosopher, soon followed him. Eva switched languages and spent the rest of her childhood in a progressive boarding school, striving to become British. After taking a degree in Physiology at London University, she went on to do research at the University of Cambridge, but she found the experiments she had to perform on living animals very distressing. The results of her experiments were "peculiar," she relates, so when a fellow student, Alan Ibbotson, suggested she could do less harm to science by leaving it and marrying him, she accepted without hesitation. The couple moved to Newcastle, in the north of England, where they raised four children and Eva began writing short stories. When the youngest son started school, she wrote her first full-length novel for children and continued to write for children and adults alternately, much to the delight of her many readers.
by Lloyd Alexander
HC: Dutton Children's Books, 0-525-45415-2
PB: Puffin Books, 0-14-038073-6
The Cat Who Wished to Be a Man
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PB: Puffin Books, 0-14-130704-8
by Gail Carson Levine
HC: HarperCollins Children's Books
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by Richard Peck
PB: Puffin Books, 0-14-038671-8
Ghosts I Have Been
by Richard Peck
PB: Puffin Books, 0-14-131096-0
Going Through the Gate
by Janet Anderson
HC: Dutton Children's Books, 0-525-45836-0
PB: Puffin Books, 0-14-130698-X
James and the Giant Peach
by Roald Dahl, illus. by Lane Smith
HC: Knopf Books for Young Readers
PB: Puffin Books, 0-14-037424-8
The Shaman's Apprentice: A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest
by Mark J. Plotkin and Lynne Cherry
HC: Gulliver Books
The National Trust
The National Trust is an organization dedicated to the preservation of the countryside, coastline, and important buildings and gardens in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. This site lists interesting places to visit.
Site of the National Geographic Society. Look up maps of London and the Amazon River. Search the sea around the British Isles for places where the Island might be found.
Ghost Watch UK
An English organization that specializes in paranormal investigations. Their site includes stories and anecdotes of people's encounters with ghosts and ghostly phenomena.
AN INTERVIEW WITH EVA IBBOTSON
Magical beings are central to many of your books. Have you always been interested in the supernatural?
No, curiously I was never particularly interested in the supernatural—quite the contrary. Ghost stories frightened me badly as a child, although I didn't really believe that ghosts existed. I think I began to write about ghosts and witches and magic generally to make children less afraid; to turn these beings into creatures much like us but of course able to do more interesting things. My ghosts and witches are more like underdogs, people on the fringes who need sympathy and help. And the witches in Which Witch? are based on my relatives—the nice witches anyway!
Your main characters all seem to come up against people who are more interested in money and power than in feelings and compassion. Is this a theme you consciously set out to explore in every book?
I think of my books as entertainments, a kind of present I give the reader, and any serious themes that come up are a by-product. But of course when I am creating "baddies" for the purposes of the plot, I find myself choosing people with the characteristics I dislike most—and there is nothing I despise more than financial greed and a lust for power.
Humor is an important element in most of your stories. What do you think is the role that humor plays in shaping our lives and our personalities?
I don't really know how to define humor or how to describe it; it is something you have to show. But I do know that both in my personal life and in my work I would be completely lost without humor...without the ability to turn things upside down, to extract something ridiculous out of the most solemn moment. Incidentally, when I'm writing I find humor—jokes that aren't forced or silly—by far the hardest thing to pull off.
In Journey to the River Sea you have written a more realistic story with a strong theme about the importance of nature to the human spirit. What was your inspiration for this story?
I wrote Journey to the River Sea not long after my husband died. He was a committed naturalist, someone who combined a deep knowledge of animals and plants with a spiritual outlook that had been strengthened by his war service in India and Burma. I think I felt at that time that I needed a rest from my usual fantasy stories—though goodness knows the Amazon landscape is fantastical enough in its own right! I wanted to write a story that was simple and old-fashioned and direct. But I have to say that the reasons one gives for writing anything tend to be made up afterwards. At the time you just find yourself doing it!
- The world of nature plays an important role in Eva Ibbotson's books. Often her characters' personalities are shown through their relationship to the natural world and the way they interact with creatures in the wild. Compare the different reactions to nature of these characters: Ben and Raymond; Oliver and Fulton; Minette, Fabio, and Lambert; The Aunts (Etta, Coral, and Myrtle) and Mr. Sprott; Maia and Gwendolyn/Beatrice; Mrs. Carter and Miss Minton; Mr. Carter and Bernard Taverner.
- In each of these stories, children must find resources inside themselves to face difficult challenges and changes in their lives, many times without the help of adults. The author says of Maia at the beginning of Journey to the River Sea, "She was afraid...afraid in the way of someone who is alone in the world" (p.2). Which of these characters believes that he or she is alone, and how does that affect the way they face their challenges: Maia, Clovis, Finn, Minette, Fabio, Oliver, Ben, Odge Gribble, Arriman, Terence?
- Help can often come from unexpected sources in Ibbotson's stories. Look carefully at each of the books to see which characters or creatures are most helpful to the protagonist. Was it obvious to you as the reader that important help would come in this way? How often were you surprised by the power of the helpers? Have you had this experience in your own life, that help came from unexpected sources?
- Many of the evil characters in the books share certain personality traits. What do these characters have in common: Mrs. Trottle, Mr. Sprott, Fulton and Frieda Snodde-Brittle, Mr. and Mrs. Carter, Madame Olympia? What do these characters tell you about the personality traits that the author dislikes? Do you know people who exhibit these qualities?
- Showing kindness toward others and especially those who appear to be "different" and "strange" is a quality that is shared by many of the main characters. Discuss the ways in which Maia, Miss Minton, Ben, Belladonna, Oliver, and the Aunts demonstrate this important character trait. What is the author telling us, through these characters, about exhibiting this quality in our own lives? How can we translate this theme from exotic and fantastic settings into our everyday world?
- At the end of Journey to the River Sea, Miss Minton says to Mr. Murray, "Perhaps I'm mad—and the professor, too—but I think children must lead big lives...if it is in them to do so" (p. 283). What does she mean by this statement, and how do you interpret the phrase "big lives"? Which characters in the other books are capable of leading "big lives," and which of them are not? Discuss the personality traits that make it possible for children—and adults—to "lead big lives."
- Ibbotson says of the Carters, "...they were far too selfish to want anybody, but they needed her [Maia]" (p. 37). What is the difference between wanting and needing somebody or something? Discuss this difference between wanting and needing as you see it in the actions and feelings of Arriman, Belladonna, the Wilkinson family, Oliver, Mrs. Trottle, Ben, Nanny Brown, the Aunts, Minette and Fabio, Maia, Miss Minton, Finn, Clovis, the Carters, and other characters of your own choice. How does it affect your feelings about a character when you make this distinction?
- When Maia first reads about the Amazon, she encounters these words: "For whether a place is a hell or a heaven rests in yourself, and those who go with courage and an open mind may find themselves in Paradise" (p. 6). Discuss this idea with relation to the setting of each of the books. How does each character's perception of a place affect the way he or she reacts to that place? How does perception of place affect you in your own life?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A British publication means some expressions are odd to Americans. A fascinating story of kidnap and mythical creatures. The story centers around Minette and Fabio, the kidnapped children who learn to care for the creatures, and unfortunately the relationship between them and the Aunts is underdeveloped. As the story concludes, the action is implied more than described, but still a wonderful,whimsical experience. I would recommend to anyone with imagination.
I really liked the funny characters in this book and their adventures. There are tons of enjoyable fantasy characters too.
The story follows the two children who are kidnapped by three sisters to help them take care of their island. Their captors, however, turn out to be kind and quirky women, the island full of amazing and magical creatures, and their lives there much better than those they lived with their families back at home.This was one of my favorite books from around 6th grade or so, and I still reread it from time to time now. Eva Ibbotson can always be counted on for fun and interesting fantasy stories, and "Island of the Aunts" is no exception.
One of those weird occurrences when you're browsing through the library trying to find something to check out so you don't get in trouble and it turns out to actually be pretty good. I just love the plot of the book, it's so hilarious if you think about it carefully, but it's still very good. You could probably go through life without reading though, so don't waste your time if you're not a reading addict who has to read anything within grasp, it's something that you read on a chance encounter and you'll probably eventually forget you ever read it, I had to wrack my brains to remember the title. But it's worth reading, so, don't forget to grab it if you ever see it on your local library's shelf.
What do you do when you are getting older and have no relatives to take over your life's work? Why kidnap some children, of course! So begins this fantastic tale of Dickensian children living in a Roald Dahl world. Three eccentric aunts live on a secret island and nurture the unusual creatures that come to them for refuge: a family of Mermaids living in sinks and tubs, a giant nesting Boobrie who must be kept fed, and an enormous hypochondriac worm who mopes about the place. When the aunts realize they won't be able to continue on alone much longer, they hatch a scheme to kidnap some children to help them in their work. Their plan succeeds, and the ocean's balance is maintained with the help of the grand Kraken. That is, until one boy's father reluctantly decides to rescue his son and make a fortune exploiting the creatures of the island.
This is the second Ibbotson book which my daughter and I have read aloud, and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. The aunts are wacky but loving, the creatures of the island are human-like in their cares, and the kidnapped children enjoy an adventure of magical proportions. For children who love animals and are concerned about the health of the environment, this book will particularly resonate and entertain. If you like [James and the Giant Peach], you will enjoy this story as well.
This book is about 3 aunts who own a small island that is yet to be discovered by the government. They need help taking care of their island so they decide to kidnap kids to help. 2 of the kids enjoy working with the creatures and respect the island but the other one is the exact opposite.
Sisters Etta, Cora, and Myrtle are getting older and they know that they're going to need some help taking care of the creatures that reside on their island. What they need are a couple of strong, open-minded children. Children nobody seems to want. Children who will grow up on the island and learn to love and care for the creatures that come there for help. There doesn't seem to be any other way to get such children except to kidnap them. So that's what the sisters decide to do. When Minette and Fabio first come to the island, they don't love it instantly... but once they find out the special creatures they will be taking care of, they grow to love it. But what will happen when the future of the island is threatened? Another hit by Ibbotson. She tells the story with wit and humor. It's funny and touching with a dash of adventure. Highly recommended for fantasy fans.
This was one of my favorite books from when I was younger. I loved all of Eva Ibbotson's books, I think this was the first one I read.
I loved this book. It was filled with exciting stories and creatures that are so real they leep off the page. I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes a good story and is willing to get lost in a book of wonderus dreams and fantasy.
As a reluctant reader, I wrestled this book from my 12 year old niece never to put it down. Island of the Aunts is the perfect read for parents and children. Please sit down with your child and share this intelligent, humorous and thought provoking book. You will hang on every word.
This book is vey funny and exciting! I loved it! IT made you want to read more and more! I recommend it for anyone who wants a good book to read!
This book is a book I want to read over and over again! It just brought me into the story and on the island with Fabio and Minette and sadly, even Lambert. While reading this book I wanted to be able to see a Boobrie, a Kraken and a Selki. My favorite character was Fabio because he wouldn't let anything put him down! I wish I could meet Eva Ibbotson and tell her how much I loved this story!
TOTALLY AWESOME!!! this book is amazing it's so good you read and read and read!!!
THIS BOOK JUST RULES!!!!!! YOU HAVE TO TRUST ME ON THIS ONE! THIS BOOK WILL BLOW YOU AWAY!!!!
Ibbotson shows the magical touch that has shown in all of her other books. She is one of the best authors in the world and her books will leave you spell bound. Her books are some of the best I've ever read!!!!!!!!!!!
I like this book because of all the mytacal creatures and because it is kind of funny.
this is a awsome book about three aunts and their crazy island, and the creautears that live on the island. you will not be able to put this book down, TRUST ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
This a great book. If you enjoy books about fantasy, adventure, and SURPRISES, then you should definitely read this book!!!!!!
This book was extremley good. It has amazingly catchy, non-boring beginning, a great middle, and a wonderful end!
Ibbotson really brings things like mermaids to life.
Hi. I am in sixth grade and I love reading about fantasy. If you like Harry Potter, than you will love this book. Its filled with intresting little details and the ending is really unexpected.
This book was really good but not one of my favorites. The begginning and middle are GREAT!!! When it's the end, the book sorta falls apart but it was still an awesome book!!!