The 13th Floor: A Ghost Story, by Sid Fleischman (Greenwillow, 1995, middle grade, 131 pages)
Sid Fleischman recently passed away, leaving behind a rich legacy of stories. Today's Timeslip Tuesday is one of these.
Contrary to what the title indicates, there are no ghosts in this story. Instead, it is a time travel tale, and quite a fun one too. Young Buddy Stebbins and his older sister Liz, a lawyer, are newly orphaned and facing a mountain of debt; soon they must sell their family home. If they had the treasure of their pirate ancestor, things would be different, but it was lost way back at the end of the 17th century.
Then a message comes from the past, and is picked up by their answering machine (!). A girl's voice urges her family to make haste to the thirteenth floor of an old building downtown, to save her from a great calamity...Liz dismisses the message as a joke, but when she doesn't come home the next day, Buddy heads off downtown himself, to see if she got off at the non-existent thirteenth floor.
And he finds himself on board his ancestor's pirate ship in 1692, heading for Boston just in time for the hysteria of the witch trials to begin! Reunited with Liz on shore, the two of them must save their ancestor, ten year old Abigail, from being hung as a witch...and perhaps, while they're back in time, find out where the treasure is hidden.
It's a fun, fast read. Fleischman keeps the ball rolling with brisk pacing. No setting ever lasts for long--from ship to long boat to Boston Harbor to witch trial, Buddy's time in the past zooms by. And this is fine--it is an adventure, after all. There is not much overt characterization, yet Buddy is still a perfectly believable kid (except, perhaps, for his rather blasé attitude toward his adventures. I would have been a wreck).
This would be a great book to give the kid who loved The Magic Treehouse books, or the A-Z Mystery series when they were younger, or who enjoys Scieszka's Time Warp Trio. It has the same relaxed improbability that makes for a pleasantly diverting read. (But I wouldn't recommend it to myself--it never once stirred any emotion in me. For that matter, neither do the Magic Treehouse books).
Timeslip-wise: There is no attempt to actually explain why the thirteenth floor leads to the past. The thirteenth floor as liminal space that doesn't exist in the real world is a fascinating concept, but awkwardly unrelated to a. pirates b. witch trials c. anything else in the book. So it calls for more suspension of disbelief than the majority of time travel books.
Experience of the past-wise: some comments on differences in material culture, and some minimal instruction about the witch trials, but mainly the past is there to provide Adventure. However, it makes the witch trials sound really interesting, and so would segue nicely into some non-fiction reading. Buddy and his sister fit remarkable easily into the 17th century world, with no troublesome details of costume, custom, or accent to bother them, unless the author chooses to bring some such detail forward for effect (this really bugged one kid reader who gave it a one star review on Amazon).
As I said, suspension of disbelief is called for...and if that can be achieved, all is well.