This has been a difficult Timeslip Tuesday, book-wise. I realized yesterday that I wouldn't finish the one I was planning to review, so I switched just before bedtime to one I thought I could finish (Time and Mr. Bass), whose blurb promised "a terrifying test of endurance involving Time itself" which sure sounds to me like time travel, and I did finish it, at lunch time today, but I am uncertain about whether I should count it or not. It was a pretty good couple of paragraphs about scary time travelling ponies, and there were a few visions, but is that enough???? Sigh.
So in any event, I'm falling back on one of my time travel Tuesday emergency books--a picture book that really truly is Time Travel.
The Backwards Watch, by Eric Houghton, illustrated by Simone Abel (Orchard Books, 1991). Sorry for the bad picture; if I'd been able to find a better one, I'd have used it.
Being the sort of girl who climbs trees, its natural that Sally comes inside covered with leaves and twigs. "You are a mess," says her grandfather, taking her up on his lap, and Sally bristles. "When I was your age," he continues, "I would never have got myself so filthy." Sally sniffs, and asks if she can wind his watch...
Somehow she winds it backwards, and "SPLOYNNG!" time starts running backwards too... and as Sally watches in amazement, Granddad un-ages from old man to a little boy about her own age! George and Sally head outside to play in the world of his childhood. They have a fine time in a nearby junkyard, building a castle and a dragon....but then George's dad comes looking for him, and marches George away, scolding him all the while for the mess he's made of himself.
And Sally finds herself back in the present, with a better appreciation of her Granddad.
This is a rare, perhaps unique, example of time travel used in picture book format to bridge generational gaps. It might be a good one to read, perhaps, to four or five year old kids who haven't spent much time with their grandparents, and who have never had a chance to realize their grandparents were once mischievous kids themselves.
I liked the premise lots, but sadly, I found both the art and the story telling uninspired and uninspiring...and I think the didactic message ends up overshadowing the substance of the book. "Insipid" and "bland" are the adjectives Pubishers Weekly used, and I can't really argue with them.
That being said, I feel that Publishers Weekly went Too Far when they said that "Houghton's insubstantial text relies too heavily on the hackneyed plot device of time travel." I resent this. When you are a four year old, you haven't exactly been exposed to a whole heck of a lot of time travel, so how can it be hackneyed? (baby animal looking for/running away from Mama = hackneyed, time travel to granddad's era = fresh exciting new premise for the young reader!). And it's a picture book about a girl who travels back in time--so how can it not rely on time travel as a plot device? Hmph.
The School Library Journal reviewer was much closer to the mark: "Time travel is an unusual theme in picture books, and it's sure to hold children's interest." Thank you, SLJ.