The Children Next Door, by Jean Ure, for Timeslip Tuesday

Sometimes it's easy to tell when a ghost is a ghost, and to say "not time travel."  Some hauntings are trickier, though...and such is the case of The Children Next Door, by Jean Ure (1994), and in explaining why I think it's timeslip than ghost, I'll spoil it a little, but it can't be helped.

In any event, 11 year old Laura moves into a new house, and soon after, while lying in the garden reading a book (she gets character points from me for this, which is about the only time she does), she hears the voices of children next door.  They are a brother and his older sister, Tommy and Em, having an argument, which results in Em throwing Tommy's toy over the fence into Laura's yard, and coming to look for it.  Laura, being shy, instinctively hides, mentally kicking herself for being so pathetic (and though it's understandable, and necessary for the plot, it's rather wet of her) and so doesn't meet Em.

And though Laura hears Em and Tommy, and their friend Kate, and peaks at them over the fence, no one else believes they are real, and her parents think Laura is much to imaginative.  So everyone is happy when Laura makes friends with the girl who really is living next door, Zilla, a live wire who is a tad obnoxious, but it's nice for Laura to be livened up.  And Laura doesn't mention Em and co. to Zilla, though she's still seeing and hearing them on occasion, because she's now trying to convince herself that they aren't real.

These shadowy children next door fit most of the criteria for ghosts, except for one crucial fact--two of them are still alive.  What Laura is experiencing are sort of memory imprints of their past, and so though she isn't exactly traveling back in time, nor are they travelling forward; instead, past and present are overlapping.  This is exactly the sort of book where "timeslip" becomes a more useful word than "time travel."

I would have liked it just fine as a child, and doubtless re-read it; as a grown-up, it was rather slight and I never saw much in Laura or Zilla, and I thought Em was one of the meanest sisters I've met in ages.  It's by  no means a bad book; I didn't mind reading it at all, and do consider offering it to any 10 year old you have on hand who enjoys quieter mysteries in which one never leaves the house and garden....and how appreciates books that finish with a nice dollop of tragedy.


  1. This is yet another of your Timeslip Tuesdays that reminds me of this one book I can never find... :-)

    It was called The Ghosts and my teacher had our reading group read it circa 1976. We each ordered it from Scholastic for 60 cents. I don't remember the author's name, and a search on abebooks isn't turning up anything.

    Anyway, two children move to the caretaker's cottage of a forbidding old country house in England with their mother and baby brother after their father dies. Then the kids meet, I think, two other children who turn out to be ghosts.

    And the two protagonists have to go back in time to rescue their own ancestor from a house fire (which I think occurred in the same forbidding old country house) because if they don't, they won't have been born in the first place. (A tricky plot point, that.) And there's an evil housekeeper who tries to prevent them.

    It was very well handled, to my ten-year-old mind, in that the fire was really scary and the children really had to do something; they weren't just going back into the past as tourists.

    ...Does this sound familiar at all?

    1. Here you go-- it is indeed called The Ghosts, and it's by Antonia Barber. It was retitled The Amazing Mr. Blunden in the UK. http://charlotteslibrary.blogspot.com/2008/09/timeslip-tuesday-ghosts-by-antonia.html

      And you can get it for a penny on Amazon!

      It is one of the most haunting, memorazble books of my childhood--it made a huge impression on me.

  2. Oh, yay! I should've known you'd know it if anyone would.

    Yup, that's just the cover I remember! (The old one.) My cousin and I spent one whole summer vacation day rereading the book together, with our heads tilted to one side and each of us reading one side of a page.

    We loved that book. So many time travel books we read really seemed to just involve the child going back in time, taking a look around, appreciating how darned different everything was, and then coming back to the present. This was the real deal.

    Thanks! Now I can go look for the book. (Google says the author is still around, and lives in an oast house in Kent. And what is an oast house? A house for drying hops, google says.)

    1. I am sad she didn't/doesn't write more like it!

  3. i was looking everywhere for this book thank you! reminds me of summer evenings in cornwall reading with my grandparents x


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