Can I recommend most time travel novels I read to some subset of readers, however small? Will I read a book simply because it has a cheesy cover with dated typography? Yes, and again yes. Kentucky residents: Here and Then, by George Ella Lyon, (1994, 114 pages) is for you. This is one I plucked from the Goodread’s “Children’s Time Travel Fiction of the 90s” list. Unfortunately, though it has a great premise, there isn’t enough actual time travel in the story to satisfy most readers.
Here’s the Goodreads summary:
Through ghostly visitation and a diary that seems mysteriously to write itself with twelve-year-old Abby’s hands, a Civil War nurse asks for help with medical supplies across an abyss of 133 years.
Abby’s parents are Civil War reenactors. This was a great idea on the part of the author because it serves twin purposes. It puts Abby into the historic house where the Civil War nurse ghost first makes contact with her, when Abby’s family stays at the vacant house for a weekend reenactment. In fact, each reenactor is playing the part of an actual historic figure, and Abby is playing the nurse. Also, since the parents are experts on the Civil War in Kentucky, especially around Perryville, they are also able to provide historical context.
The heart of the book was the way the civil war nurse managed to reach through the years and control Abby’s hands so that Abby would find herself writing journal entries such as this wish list:
salve for powder burns
This was so creepy and vivid. But it wasn’t only creepy–it was also moving, since Abby really feels for the suffering of the soldiers. Abby enlists her friend’s help, and together they gather supplies for the nurse. Then Abby skips school (as a parent, I would have preferred she go on a weekend day) and brings the supplies to the historic house. She has a brief interaction with people from that era. Up to this point I had assumed the nurse was somehow communicating with Abby, but then words issue from Abby’s mouth that are not her own, so perhaps she BECOMES the nurse briefly. It’s not exactly clear, but in any case it doesn’t last more than ten minutes. Throughout my reading of the book, I expected at some point Abby would get plunged into the past for a while, or at least meet the nurse, but it never happened. It was ultimately, very frustrating to only get glimpses of this other time.
For a bunch of cool middle grade book reviews, see Shannon Messenger’s blog.