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Jennifer Bell on Her Favourite Time-bending Tales for Kids

Posted on 27th May 2020 by Mark Skinner

Jennifer Bell, author of the bestselling Uncommoners series, has created an incredible world for her latest children's novel. Channelling gamer culture alongside a dash of history (hello, Sir Isaac Newton) and lashings of adventure, Wonderscape breathes new life into the tried and tested time travel trope. In this exclusive piece, Jennifer discusses the time-bending books that inspired her to write Wonderscape.  

From the works of Stephen King and Terry Pratchett, to characters like Dr Who and the iconic DeLorean, time-travel is so widespread in popular culture it’s easy to think that the concept has been around forever. In fact, it wasn’t until the turn of the last century when H.G. Wells married the words ‘time’ and ‘travel’ in his novel The Time Machine, that the idea was officially born.

For me, the appeal of a time-travel story is its endless possibilities. Where and when will the characters travel to? Who will they meet? What kind of mind-boggling conundrums might they be faced with? The perils of time-travel are well documented. If you venture back in time, your actions may have dramatic consequences that stretch far into the future. If you journey ahead, you risk unearthing dangerous information about your (as yet) unlived life.

Titanic science-fiction writers such as Douglas Adams, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov and Kurt Vonnegut have explored the concept for adults, but it’s been featured in many brilliant children’s stories too. Here are some of my favourites for a younger audience.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

With a brilliant puzzle at its heart that’ll keep you guessing till the very end, When You Reach Me is the tale of teenager Miranda, who lives in a small apartment with her mum. Miranda starts receiving notes from an anonymous stranger which seem to predict her future, and the story follows her journey as she investigates the mystery behind them. Expertly constructed, this is one of those stories you’ll want to re-read so you can spot all the clever little bits of craftsmanship.

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Structured with clockwork precision and written with sensitivity and flair, Stead’s unconventional mystery novel follows a troubled teenager and some intriguing notes which may just help her to prevent a tragic death. Both a beautifully judged character study and a gripping genre piece, When You Reach Me fizzes with ideas and intelligence.
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A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

This classic children’s book was first published in 1962 but still feels fresh today. It tells the story of thirteen-year-old Meg Murry, who embarks on an adventure across space and time to rescue her missing father. Along the way she is helped by three elderly women who are not what they seem – Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who and Mrs Which. Full of memorable characters and a strong heartfelt message that leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy inside.

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The classic children’s novel that kickstarted science fiction for younger readers, A Wrinkle in Time sees a trio of young explorers travel through space and time to find their missing father. Iconic and enchanting, L’Engle’s bravura work remains a benchmark for children’s writing to this day.
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A Tale of Time City by Diana Wynne Jones

Diana Wynne Jones is one of my favourite writers, and this twisty time-travel yarn is a great example of her unique imagination. It’s 1939 and while being evacuated from London, Vivian Smith is kidnapped and taken to Time City, a place that exists outside of time and space. There she becomes involved in a dangerous struggle to protect history and preserve the paths of the first and second world wars.

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From the mercurial pen of Diana Wynne Jones comes a typically immersive time travel fantasy that pitches a World War II evacuee into a complex and sinister plot deep in the heart of the mysterious, eponymous metropolis. Compelling, nuanced and playful, A Tale of Time City resounds with imagination and energy.
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The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

This romantic, swashbuckling adventure follows Nix Song, a girl who lives on a magnificent old pirate ship called The Temptation. She can time-travel thanks to her father, who has the ability to navigate to any place, so long as he has a map to it. Unfortunately for Nix, he’s obsessed with finding a map to guide him back to his long-lost love – and Nix’s entire existence will be erased if he finds it.

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Working through the ramifications of changing time and history with great style and agility, Heilig’s piratical adventure possesses real heart and pathos. The tale of a father on an obsessive quest which threatens his daughter’s very existence, The Girl From Everywhere is a masterly slice of swashbuckling science fiction.
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Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce

I love the ghostly, magical quality to this time-travel story, set in the 1950s. When Tom’s brother gets the measles, Tom is quarantined in his aunt and uncle’s city apartment. Late at night he hears the communal grandfather clock striking thirteen and ventures outside to discover the garden has travelled back in time to the 1880s. There, he befriends a little girl called Hetty who, every night, starts to grow up before his very eyes.

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A true masterpiece of children’s literature, Tom’s Midnight Garden abounds in richly evoked atmosphere and a bewitching concept that has enchanted millions of readers. Merging aspects of time travel and supernatural fiction with a moving and involving domestic story, Philippa Pearce’s finest work is one of the greatest of all post-war children’s books.
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Comments

Jennifer Waters

I agree very much with Gwen Fillenham's request that your reviews include a recommended age bracket. My grandson is at that transition stage from child to young adult, so it is easy to misjudge and buy a book which is too childish in content for him. On the other hand he is not ready for the subject matter of some of the young adult books. A little guidance would be appreciated and would probably generate more sales. Thank you. Jenny
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Jennifer Waters
15th September 2020
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Gwen Fillenham

I love receiving your news letter and hearing about new books, especially in these strange times! But it would be very helpful if, when reviewing children’s books, you could give a recommended age. It takes an age trawling through your website to see if it it in the right age bracket. Whereas it would only take you a second to include it in your review. Thank you. Gwen View more

Gwen Fillenham
21st June 2020
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