Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Time Travel

I love time travel books, which is probably why I was so enthusiastic about Any Which Wall. Charlotte Sometimes and The Children of Green Knowe, along with Michael Lawrence’s Crack in the Line were all books I adored. There was even a television series, Voyagers! which even my children found amusing. I love to think that time travel is possible.

But. It’s a very exacting thing, writing about time travel. Not only does the author have to be diligent about the historical aspects, we have to be allowed to suspend disbelief in order to get to a different time, and everything has to work together so as not to be confusing. Any Which Wall did a good job of all of that. We were told up front to just believe it, and the characters came back to the present to regroup. Two other series I’ve read, Haddix’s Found and Sent, and Annette Laing’s The Snipesville Chronicles, struggled with some aspects of time travel.

Clearly, Sent was well researched. Chip and Jonah find out in Found that they are missing children from history, Edward V and his younger brother Richard , and they are sent back to “fix” time. Unfortunately, Alex and Katherine tag along, which causes problems with getting Edward and Richard to fill their rightful place in history. The time travel component, the Elucidator, required a lot of technical explanation and was a somewhat clunky vehicle, what with it breaking down and being hard to understand (I prefer the Omni in Voyagers! Even though they didn’t have the manual, it only gave them problems when it was convenient to the plot.) The presence of Tracers, other versions of the character existing in the same time, yet giving off a low wattage light, was confusing, and since the whole historical story was confusing, the whole book made my brain hurt. Adding to my confusion was the fact that it was so different from the first book. I’ll buy the sequel, and I’m sure this will be popular, but I found it heavy going.

Slightly better was Laing’s Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When (great title!) and A Different Day, A Different Destiny. The method of time travel seemed easier to grasp—the children are sent back by the Professor in order to fix problems. Good. There’s lots of action and adventure in both of these, and more careful editing would have removed some of the historical explication at the beginning and introduced it as part of the story. The goal here is clearer—the children are supposed to find a particular person, and they get to experience life during World War II, which makes them less likely to complain about the fact that their parents moved them somewhere they didn’t want to be. Where I ran into problems was when one boy was sent from 1940 back to 1915. Caroline Cooney’s Time Quartet runs into this same problem.

While I liked the sequel to this one, A Different Day, A Different Destiny, the problem of multiple historical periods crops up again. The children are sent to London and Scotland in 1851, and a plantation in the South. Just when I would get used to one reality, the scene would change. Perhaps I would have enjoyed the book more if I hadn’t been trying so desperately to figure things out.

I will test both of these with students back at school. Then I get to ask them what they would wear to time travel, which is always a fun conversation.


Darla D said...

Oh, I adored Charlotte Sometimes when I was a kid! I think I wore out my library's copy, reading it over and over again.

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