Alex and his family have just moved from suburban Maryland to rural Virginia, where their parents have bought and fixed up a wonderful old house to be a bed and breakfast. Up in the tower room they stumble across an old spyglass, and when all three of them touch it, it whisks them back in time. This is the first book in the Time Spies series, and each book takes the children to a different place and time. In this first installment, the children travel back to the time of the Revolutionary War - and even get to play a part in the defeat of Cornwallis.
I discovered this series through Becky's irresistible review at her Young Readers blog (thanks, Becky!), and I read it to my children (ages 7 and 9) over the course of a few evenings. The kids seemed to enjoy it well enough, but they weren't passionate about it, probably because it is a very simple book with very little character development. In fact, the characters were fairly interchangeable, particularly the older two children (and I kept forgetting which was the boy and which was the girl). There was the usual friction between the older siblings, but I never felt I had a good understanding of their motives. One moment the older sister, Mattie, is insisting they mustn't use the spyglass because it's dangerous; a few pages later she's enthusiastic about embarking on another adventure. I guess the characters never seemed very real to me - it felt as though they were merely a vehicle to trot the story into a particular time period so the reader could learn all about it, history brought to life through the story. The time-travel setup also felt a bit contrived to me - within moments of being in the house, the kids just happen to promptly discover a hidden entrance to the tower room as well as the magical spyglass (perhaps having recently finished The Door to Time made this one pale in comparison - although to be fair, that one is meant for an older audience).
That said, I think this series would have immense appeal to readers of series such as The Magic Tree House, which also has zero character development but takes the reader to interesting places and time periods. I enjoyed the fact that the little sister appears to know more about what's going on than either of her older siblings, and that there is a sense of mystery (who is the mysterious letter writer who appears to be orchestrating these time-travel trips for the children?) and further adventures to come.
Books in the Time Spies series:
1. Secret in the Tower
2. Bones in the Badlands
3. Giant in the Garden
4. Magician in the Trunk
5. Gold in the Hills
6. Message in the Mountain
6. Flames in the City
Secret in the Tower (#1 in the Time Spies series) by Candice Ransom (Wizards of the Coast, 2006)
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