It has been more than a month since my last Timeslip Tuesday post...yoicks. But I have several good ones lined up, so I have high hopes that it will become a regular feature again.
In view of the recent blogosphere discussion about kids of color in the books written today, I am rather pleased that the book that I had already planned to review today has, as one of the three main characters, an African-American boy from the 21st century who is a normal, everyday kid. Normal, that is, apart from the fact that he travels through time.
This week's time travel book is A Different Day, A Different Destiny, book 2 of the Snipesville Chronicles by Annette Laing (2009, Confusion Press, middle grade, 269pp). In the first book of the series (Don't Know Where, Don't Know When), Hannah and Alex Dias, and their friend Brandon Clark travelled back through time and space to WW II Britain (and Brandon went back even farther, to WW I...). Now the three children have been whisked up again in the time travelling machinations of the strange professor who took control of their lives last time. They are about to find out what 1851 was really like.
For Hannah, who finds herself toiling in a Scottish textile factory, it is brutal drudgery. For Alex, who finds himself the clerk of a slave-owning Southerner, life is more comfortable materially, but not at all so mentally. For Brandon, the experience is even stranger--as a black boy in Victorian England, he is something of a curiosity. He leaves his first employment in a northern coal mine to find work as an undertaker's boy (adding interest to funerals), and from there he becomes a servant to a titled lady, who brings him out to preach the evils of slavery to raise money for the Abolitionist movement in the United States.
Although the paths of the three children seem to have taken them far from each other (in rather complicated story-lines), they are fated to meet again. When they do, the three kids must change the course of history. It's a small change, but important nonetheless...
Annette Laing is herself a professor of history, and the 1851 she brings to her readers is beautifully researched and meticulously crafted. As far as "time travel as education" goes, her Snipesville Chronicles are impeccable. My only complaint is that this book is perhaps a tad too ambitious in the history side of things. My own mind was dizzied by the three points of view--hurrying from Georgia plantation to coal mine to textile factory and onward, each place with its own cast of local characters and dense background of history and culture. I had a sense of the book as more "vignettes of modern children in the past" then as an engrossing fictional narrative.
But when the paths of the three kids all bent toward the Crystal Palace in London (around page 200) the story truly began to work for me as a story--they ceased being characters in isolation, and became much more alive in my mind. And from then on, it was both fascinating and pleasurable to watch all the disparate threads of story become woven into a coherent whole (although, because there are lots and lots of these threads, and Laing is fairly thorough in her explanations, this part might not be to the taste of every reader. The one thing that is never explained is the Professor herself--what and why she's doing with time remains a mystery).
In short, I found it top-notch historical fiction on the history side of things, but not quite as engrossing as the first book as far as the characters' own stories went (bearing in mind that I like that one a lot--here's my review; it was my first official Timeslip Tuesday book, way back in June 2008...). I trust that there will be a third book--at least, I hope there will be!
(disclosure: I received my copy from the author)