Today's Timeslip Tuesday book is Jessamy, by Barbara Sleigh (1967, 246 pages of large type, middle grade). Peter shared a touching story about this book over at his blog, Collecting Children's Books, this past Sunday, and since I am lucky enough to have a copy, it seemed like a good time to feature it here (especially since it is one of my favorite timeslip stories).
Jessamy's lonely life is spent being shunted between two aunts, one in school time, one for vacations. Neither particularly wants her. So when Aunt Maggie, the vacation aunt, breaks the news to her that her own children have whooping cough, and that Jessamy will have to stay elsewhere, she is not particularly disappointed. Especially when the elsewhere turns out to be an old house, empty except for a caretaker and the memories the house still holds of the children who once lived there. While exploring the house, Jessamy's attention is caught by a tall cupboard in the old nursery. Opening the door, she finds the measuring marks of those children, with their names written next to them. And one of the names is her own.
That night, Jessamy can't sleep for wondering if she really saw her own name. Quietly she goes back upstairs, opens the cupboard...and finds that she has gone back in time, to 1914, and that she has just fallen from a tree, hurting her head badly (nicely smoothing out for her the difficulties concomitant with time travel). Here she has another aunt, the newly hired cook, who (for a change) is an aunt who loves her, and, in an equally pleasant turn of events, she has the companionship of the children of the house. It is for the most part a happy house. It is true, Fanny, the girl closest to Jessamy's own age, resents the intrusion of the cook's niece, but Kit, the youngest boy, soon becomes her close friend. For Jessamy, lonely no longer, the past seems like an awfully nice place to be.
Except for one thing. 1914, as Jessamy realizes, is not the best year to visit to the past. World War I has started, Harry, the eldest son of the house has left school to enlist, quarreling with his grandfather and storming off in the night, seemingly taking with him his grandfather's precious medieval book of hours. Jessamy, living in both the upstairs world of the family and the downstairs world of the staff, may be the only one able to solve the mystery and clear Harry's name.
Before she can do this, the cupboard sends her forward in time again. But her time in the present is made magical by her knowledge of the house's past, and free from Aunt Maggie's ideas of "suitable playmates," Jessamy befriends a boy who shares his name with a man she had met in the past.
And one day, the cupboard sends her back again. A year has past, and the mystery is still unsolved...and Harry's grandfather still will not allow his name to be spoken.
If I keep on writing, it will get spoilerish, so I shall stop now. But in case anyone is wondering, Jessamy solves the mystery and ends up in her own time, with a happy ending.
Peter referred to this as a "lesser known children's book", but over in the UK it is still rather well known and loved, especially by those who read it back in the 1960s and 70s, when they were children. Partly this is because it is so easy to empathize with likable, lonely Jessamy, partly because Sleigh does a marvellous job bringing the house and its family to life, and partly because the story is magical enough to fascinate, without being so complex as to befuddle. This is the sort of book that a certain type of 10 or 11 year old girl (who values character over action, who is imaginative and introspective) will find incredibly satisfying.
Sadly, it is not readily available anymore, because it's been out of print for a while. It's selling on Amazon for around $50, although there are slightly cheaper copies at Amazon UK (fifteen pounds). But lots of American libraries bought it in the late 1960s, so it might still be lingering in the obscure branches that haven't purged their collections much...It is worth looking for.
ps. Sorry for the small size of the picture. It is not a dog in a pink dress. It is a kneeling girl. But I wanted to show an edition other than the one at Peter's site. The edition I have is an even more miserable cover than either of these, being mostly puce. If I get around to it, I'll scan it, since it's nowhere to be found on line.