Back before 2009 (more or less), time travel in children’s books was most often a solitary pursuit, with a single child slipping back (or forward) in time. Occasionally there was more than one time traveling child—a pair of siblings, perhaps, or best friends. And the time to which the children traveled was (generally) far away from their own period.
These days, time travel most often comes in two different forms—those in which protagonists visit/revisit parts of their own lives (recent examples include Alice in Time, A Year Without Autumn, Before I Fall),and those in which time travel is controlled by a mysterious organization, which often is struggling to keep history running as it should (The Missing series, Tomorrow's Guardian, TimeRiders). In these later books, an “ordinary” kid is generally plucked from obscurity and plunged into the thick of things, often finding his life in danger; like the reader, this kid will not quite understand everything that is happening, and must trust the organization/author that it will all work out in the end.
The History Keepers: The Storm Beings, by Damian Dibben (Doubleday, UK, 2011, 456 pages), is the most recent example of this subgenre I’ve read, and perhaps my personal favorite of lot (probably because the time travel involves going back to one period and staying there, allowing the story to be more of an immersive experience than books in which there’s lots of jumping back and forth--a personal preference). But more generally, this is one I highly recommend to fans of action-filled, adventurous, fighting-against-evil stories. It is light (almost bordering on farce in places), and seems a logical next step a reader might take after enjoying the middle grade over-the-top-adventures like We Are Not Eaten by Yaks, or Whales on Stilts. 7th and 8th grade boys in particular should enjoy this one.
It stars an ordinary (despite possessing “brave, intelligent eyes”(page 1), which almost made me put the book down*) English kid, named Jake, who is forcibly dragged into a secret organization of time travelers fleeing England in a great hurry (their reasons for both the kidnapping and the fleeing weren’t stated clearly enough for me to be able to tell you exactly what the point was, but I could easily have missed something). This organization is dedicated to foiling the plots of those who (because of innate, monomaniacal evilness) want to disrupt history.
Happily Jake turns out to be special—he is a natural-born time traveler. Happily the organization that has kidnapped him with inadequate explanation turns out to be the good guys, able to offer tasty snacks and nice wardrobe opportunities, as well as new friends—a brave girl, blessed with brains and beauty, a super-intelligent boy,and a foppishly comical, yet good-hearted and brave, other boy.
Unhappily, Jake’s parents turn out to be missing back in 15th-century Venice. Even more unhappily, the nascent Renaissance is in jeopardy! Unless, of course, the History Keepers can set things right.
So Jake and his new friends head off to save civilization, risking death by both standard weapons and less standard snake-bite (15 foot black mambas)…and all the while Jake is (quite understandably) distracted by thoughts of the beautiful girl (it’s hard to impress someone who knows more than you and is better at most things than you) and his lost parents…
Some things could have been more fully, or at least more clearly, explained, some aspects of the story could have been less cliched, the writing could perhaps have been pruned in places. But despite those complaints, it's a fine entertainment of a swashbuckling sort. In short: if I had a 12 year old boy who liked adventure stories, this is a book I'd seriously consider giving him for Christmas, but I'll be passing my review copy on to the library, instead of giving it a loving place in my home.
For more about the History Keepers series, visit its website.
(Disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher).
If any of you have reviewed a time travel book today, let me know and I'll add a link!
*and which led me to ask my husband if he thought I had "brave, intelligent eyes." He didn't even try to answer the question. I have decided that I would like to have "shy, yet sardonic eyes."