The Bassumtyte Treasure, by Jane Louise Curry (Atheneum, 1978, 130 pages--books sure were shorter back then....)
Sometimes it's fun to read a book that one doesn't have to; one that's not from the pile of books received for review, or the pile of unread books acquired over the past year, or the pile of library books for Cybils reading. So the other day I took home from the library The Bassumtyte Treasure, just because it looked like a Charlotte-ish kind of book. Happily, it was, and as an added bonus, there was timeslip element, making it Useful as well.
Ten-year old Tommy Bassumtyte had lived happily with his old great aunt in New England, but when the child welfare authorities began to investigate his circumstances, the threat of foster care loomed...So his great aunt preemptively sent him off to live with his only other living relative, in a beautiful old house in England.
His cousin, another Thomas, gives him a warm welcome, and the old house is a thing of beauty, full of treasures of Bassumtyte's past. Among these is the portrait for a small boy, from the time of Queen Elizabeth--who looks just like Tommy. But all is not entirely well--cousin Thomas is recovering from a nearly fatal mountain-climbing accident, and struggling to eke out a living as a translator, while the bills mount and a greedy would-be buyer of the house and its contents plots on the sidelines. The only hope, as far as Tommy can tell, is to find the lost treasure of his family. To do so, he'll have to decipher the clues in the rhyme his grandfather taught him, and unravel a mystery 400 years old.
That mystery reverberates into the present--a mysterious woman from the past mistakes Tommy for the other little boy of long ago, and seems concerned for his safety. But it is not until Tommy himself finds himself back in the past (albeit briefly, and as a spectator) that the pieces of the puzzle fall into place...
Those with an interest in Elizabethan intrigues, and those who like books with beautiful old houses full of treasures should enjoy it as I did--as a pleasant, quick escape from the modern world! A bonus, as far as I'm concerned, is that embroidered treasures are prominently featured, and one of these provides an important clue (I like reading about embroidery).
The mystery isn't that hard to figure out, nor is it original, which might have some readers rolling their eyes, but the tension raised by the possible loss of the house adds a convincing worry. Sadly, the romance between cousin Thomas and the very nice young daughter of the vicar, who is a curator (I think) in a museum in Oxford, was much too abrupt for my taste--there was a lot that seemed to go un-narrated. I could have happily read many more pages about them! But since the book is told from the point of view of a ten year old boy, I guess it might well have appeared abrupt to him too!
There are two time-travelish elements--the woman in grey who is so concerned about keeping young Tommy safe is arguable a ghost, and not someone travelling in time (although one brief, tantilizing section, told from her point of view, suggests otherwise), but Tommy's glimpse of the Elizabethan past definitely counts. Disappointingly for us time travel fans, he doesn't actually leave his room--he just looks out the window, and so his trip to the past is simply the deus ex machina of the plot (less than two pages...sigh).
Oh well. You can't have everything, and at least there was embroidery....
Edited to add: thanks to Jennifer's comment, I visited my library system and piled up a huge virtual stack of Jane Louise Curry books to read. Her most recent book, The Black Canary, is an excellent time travel story--you can read part of the first chapter here, and here's my review.
(although there's a boy main character, this is one I'd give to girls--there's not much Action or Drama. And, a tad unfortunately, it's explained that the name Bassumtyte comes from "bosom tight" as in clasped to the chest, and one can imagine snickers from the immature).