Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Accidental Time Traveller by Janis MacKay

Premise: When 11 year old Saul goes on an errand for his mother, the last thing he expects to see is a terrified girl suddenly appearing in the middle of the street. But Agatha Black isn't just any girl, she has transported from the year 1812 and now she's stuck in the future. Can Saul find a way to keep her safe and ultimately return her to the past?

Title: The Accidental Time Traveller
Author: Janis MacKay
Length: 240 pages
Genre: Science Fiction (ish ~ see below)
Series or Stand Alone: Stand Alone
Content appropriate for: Grades 3-5
Format: With thanks for this ARC from Floris Books through

3 adjectives that describe this book: disappointing, difficult, interesting

I was so excited about reading this book. Middles grades books about time travel are basically limited to the Magic Tree House books. I was looking forward to an epic adventure a la Dr. Who. Sadly, this was not to be. Not that it's a bad book... it just isn't a time travel adventure. Read the premise again... read it carefully. There is basically no time travel in this book. Rather than thinking of this book as science fiction, maybe it's best to see it as realistic fiction that happens to have a main character from the past.

Once I got over this disappointment (stupid misleading title!), I rather enjoyed the story of Saul and Agatha. We spend a lot of time being amazed by the technology of the 21st century and Saul is quite surprised that life in 1812 wasn't as backwards as he expected. The first half of the book focuses on these revelations and Agatha describes the (strange and silly) process used for time travel. These 100 pages really frustrated me, waiting for something to happen. The second half of the book is more interesting and has a very satisfying conclusion. All the pieces fit together just so.

A few things kept this book from meeting it's full potential:
* Why is the story told from Saul's first-person perspective. It would have been much more interesting told from Agatha's perspective. That would have allowed us to feel the shock of life in the 21st century, rather than just see her freak out all the time.

* This story takes place in Scotland and it is very, very Scottish. Very few of my rural American 5th graders would be able to follow this book with it's frequent use of dialect. Agatha's speech is also very authentic. She says things like, "Afore yea hasten away, pray look." That's a direct quote. I would only be able to give this book to students who have a lot of experience reading dialect, and maybe watch some BBC programming.

* In the story, Saul writes an essay about life in 1812. For a sixth grader, he is a poor writer. The essay uses no transitions, detail, or organization. Most of my fifth graders write better than Saul. That's fine - I'm glad to see him trying and getting into it. My problem with this is that Saul's essay actually WINS the essay contest! He wins! This was just too Mighty Ducks for me...

The Accidental Time Traveller would be a great book for children who are interested in 19th century history and are willing to be confused when reading dialect. 

3 stars

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