Cave of Wonders, by Matthew Kirby (Scholastic 2013), is the fifth book of a series, with each book written by a different author, in which three kids jump around time to fix the breaks in history that will cause a violent cataclysm if left broken. For the kid who enjoyed the Magic Treehouse books three or so years ago, and who enjoys a bit of (occasionally) violent mayhem, these are a good pick. (There are lots of on-line extras, including time-travel games, to add interest).
Each of the (shortish) books is a new adventure in a new time and place...and each time the bad guys of SQ try to thwart the kids (I cannot, at this point in my reading, remember why), and good guys (a secret order of Hystorians [sic]) help them. And in each book the kids face dangers, escape from dangers through luck and (sometimes) intelligence, and emerge ready to start again in a new time (I am thinking they really need a vacation before they go to pieces--they have been through weeks of horrible tension at this point, and I would have cracked long ago).
But in any event, here in book five they are in Babylon just as it is about to be attacked and destroyed by a Mongol army, and their mission is to save the writings of Aristotle from its main library (which I'm assuming is the titular cave of wonders, because I don't remember any other caves...). There's not much in the way of American middle-grade fiction set in the medieval Islamic world, so I was intrigued, and although the world-building doesn't go to far beyond courtyards and gardens, and carpets and donkeys, there are also the great libraries, and at the very least it is a Good Thing to introduce young American readers to the idea that the Near East has a history of its own...
I would also like to express my gratitude to the author for moving the relationship between the three young protagonists along in a healthier direction. There's a lot less sniping and unpleasantness in this installment, and they are finally starting to talk to each other about what's worrying them. On the other hand, the focus is so much on the adventure that there's not a whole lot of page time given to character growth...oh well.
The next one up takes them to WW II, which appeals to me...so I shall continue onward even though I am increasingly bothered by the fact that I have no clue what's motivating the bad guys. What I would really like is for everyone to spend quite time in the original present, falling back, regrouping, repairing the time travel equipment, reminding forgetful readers about the larger story arc, etc.; the groundwork for this has been laid, so maybe it will happen...
(thanks to its multiracial protagonists, this is another for my list of diverse sci fi/fantasy for young readers...)
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher