Book: The Book That Proves Time Travel Happens
Author: Henry Clark
Age Range: 8-12
The Book That Proves Time Travel Happens by Henry Clark is an entertaining romp through history, complete with visits to the Civil War era south and ancient China. There are clues hidden in Morse code, as well as linked hints derived from an ancient Chinese text. There are multi-cultural characters, and their skin color is essential to the book's plot (not just an add-on for the sake of "diversity"). And yes, there is time travel, via a mechanism that I have not seen described previously. In short, The Book That Proves Time Travel Happens is smart and fun and a great choice for middle grade or middle school readers.
The Book That Proves Time Travel Happens features a middle school age boy named Ambrose Brody (sometimes called Bro), his best friend Tom Xui, and a Romany girl named Shofranka who the boys meet at a carnival. Ambrose is worried about his father, who has recently been laid off as an English teacher at the middle school because he likes to walk around in (very detailed) historical costumes. [People who "prefer to dress in the attire of other time periods" are called "trans-temporals", and are frequently persecuted].
Ambrose ends up pulled into a time-traveling adventure by Shofranka, who is trying to find a hidden family treasure (and also replace a lost book). The three kids end up in their own southern town, back in 1849, where their various dark skin colors cause them some problems. Various adventures ensue, but I won't spoil the suspense by telling you anything more about them.
Here's how Clark introduces Ambrose's ethnic background:
"I like Mrs. Xui (Tom's mother) but she says odd things sometimes. I once her call me "Tom's nice African friend," which I thought was pretty funny. My mom is black, but she's from Canada, and she can speak French because that's the only way she could talk to her grandparents. My dad is Irish, and he says he's the palest man in Ohio, which anybody who's seen him in a toga would definitely agree with. Irish doesn't describe me, and neither does African, though I do look more like my mom than my dad." (Page 33)
Tom has a verbal quirk by which instead of swearing he simply uses random vocabulary words. So we have passages like this:
"Bilious!" Tom cursed, and sat back down. He tugged on my pant leg until I joined him. "You're not going to let that astrolabe get to you, are you? We have better things to think about." (Page 49)
As these curse words are mentioned completely outside of any context, they are not useful for improving the vocabulary of readers. I personally found them mildly annoying. But that's my only real quibble with the book. There are various other examples of wordplay in the book that I think work better.
The mechanics of the time travel are vague, but there is a thought-out method to the whole thing. There are definite echoes of the Back to the Future movies, including as an over-the-top example in which a tiny bit of knowledge given inadvertently to someone in the past changes the future (and not in a good way). One scene also strongly called to my mind the movie Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. I don't think that kids will get too hung up on the details - they'll instead appreciate the inherent coolness that there would be in having access to a time travel device.
The Book That Proves Time Travel Happens hits a nice sweet spot, I think, between geekiness and rollicking adventure. There are chases to be won, codes to be broken, and bullies to be tackled in various time periods. The interactions between the three main characters are plausible (with realistic amounts of sarcasm, for example), and there are plenty of kid-friendly details sprinkled throughout the book. The Book That Proves Time Travel Exists is well worth a look by libraries, and seems sure to please strong middle grade and middle school readers. Recommended!
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (@LBKids)
Publication Date: April 14, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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