Today's Timeslip Tuesday book is one that I have been re-reading ever since I was young. I am not alone in liking this book--The Court of the Stone Children, by Eleanor Cameron (Penguin, 1973, middle grade, 191 pp), won the National Book Award when it was first published.
Nina and her parents moved to San Fransisco four months ago from a tiny town up in the mountains, leaving cat and friends behind. Now she is lonely and discontented, hating the strange city. Things change when Nina learns about the nearby French Museum--she knows she must go there, now, immediately. Exploring the garden with its statues of long gone French children, and wandering through the period rooms, that recreate a Napolionic era chateau, Nina begins to imagine herself in the past....and realizes she is not alone. There, curled up on one of the beds, is Dominique, a mysterious French girl who seems perfectly at home in the museum. With reason--the rooms are from her home, a home that she left over 100 years ago. And she needs Nina's help to unravel the mystery that clouded her life.
From the journal of another French girl, who lived at the same time as Dominique, strangely vivid dreams, and listening to Dominique, Nina begins to piece together what happened one fateful week, long ago.
It is a gently eerie story, with intense descriptions of place and atmosphere. Perhaps it is more "ghost story" than time travel story, but the nature of time is a central theme of the book (the characters talk about it a lot, which I as a child found very interesting). Chagall's painting, Time is a River Without Banks, hangs in the museum, and this is the sort of fluid time that lets past and present meet in Nina and Dominique's friendship.
Although I enjoyed the story very much in all my re-readings, it is the setting that makes this a book I love. This particular museum a lovely place--"a long, pale yellow building-no, not yellow; more a pale gold in this brooding storm light--that stood in a sweep of lawns scattered with trees" (page 8). Nina longs to be a curator when she grows up, and begins her apprenticeship here, letting the reader in with her behind the scenes (and in my mind, behind the scenes of a museum is a fascinating place, even now that I've done it quite a bit in real life).
It's hard for me to say if an adult reading this for the first time would enjoy it, and I wouldn't recommend it for the young reader looking for exciting action and adventure (perhaps the descriptions would be a bit much? The characters too eager to tell to much about the workings of their minds to each other (this gets on my nerves a bit, re-reading it as an adult)? The plot a bit slow?) but for an imaginative girl, fascinated by the past, who likes to daydream that magic and mystery might be just around the corner, this book is pretty perfect.
One thing that annoys me, and I wish they had changed it in the more recent edition:
"Why do you want to be a curator?" the boy asked. "Women can, I suppose. I mean, there's no law against it..." (page 4). This seems incredibly dated even for the 1970s.