Archer's Quest, by Linda Sue Park (Clarion Books, 2006, middle grade, 159 pp)
Kevin is home alone, trying to muster enthusiasm for his homework, when...THWOCK! An arrow lifts off his baseball cap, and pins it to the wall.
"My arrow would end your life before you took a single step," says the strange man who has suddenly materialized in his room. "Do not even think of fleeing. And if you are armed, place your weapon on the floor. Now." (dialogue from p. 5)
Kevin, being a typical middle school kid, is not, in fact, armed. Even if he were, he would stand no chance against this stranger, who is none other than Chu-mong, founder of the largest of the ancient kingdoms of Korea, and one of the greatest archers of all time. Chu-mong had not intended to visit Kevin's house--some strange twist of chance and magic has brought him into the present. And now Kevin must help him return home, before the Year of the Tiger comes to an end the next day.
Kevin scrambles to use math, the Chinese Zodiac, his grandparent's stories of Korea, and a visit to a tiger in the zoo and to the local museum to help the archer return home, all the while guiding Chu-mong through the perils of 21st-century life. And Chu-mong in turn gives Kevin not only a tangible connection to the land of his ancestors, but the more practical ability to focus that underlies his own skills as a warrior.
Fast-paced (it all takes place in less than one day) and told with considerable humor, this story combines puzzle solving, history and legend, and the workings of the middle-school boy mind to great effect. Because it's set in the present, it is, I think, a more accessible type of time travel story than the sort where modern kids travel back to the past. The reader can easily imagine himself in Kevin's position, for instance, as Kevin tries to explain the workings of cars to the strange visitor who has just jumped behind a hedge on first seeing one.
I'd especially recommend this to the middle-grade kid who doesn't necessarily read fantasy. The ones who do read fantasy might well like it lots too, but they might feel that they are getting something more realistic than they had bargained for. This a testimony to Park's writing, in as much as she has made an impossible situation seem strangely convincing.
I'd also like to recommend this one to kids who are considering taking up archery. It should inspire them nicely.
(for anyone looking for other time slip reviews, I noticed two others today--Liz at A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy has A Wish After Midnight, by Zetta Elliot, and Jennifer at Jean Little Library has Don't Know Where, Don't Know When, by Annette Laing. And, as an added bonus, both are also books, like Archer's Quest, with non-white protaginists).