I was surprised when I visited England at what a popular genre historical children’s time travel novels were, but it’s one I enjoy so I got a couple. Both are apparently much beloved classics that must have missed me when I was a child, and this was a good chance to fill in some gaps of my children’s novel knowledge.
Tom’s Midnight Garden has an intimidatingly positive pull quote by Philip Pullman on the cover: “a perfect book.” This made me internally querulous and I don’t think it was a perfect book, but it was definitely a very good one. Tom gets sent stay at his aunt and uncle’s apartment for the summer so that he doesn’t catch measles from his brother. Once there, he’s able to walk through a door and travel to the garden that was there in the Edwardian era. There, he meets a young girl who’s the only one who can see him, and they become friends. I think why this book is so good is because it captures the emotional state of the children very well, and the obliviousness of the adults around them. The narrative split between past and present also works, and the conclusion is satisfying.
Charlotte Sometimes follows the titular Charlotte as she and her little sister are sent off to boarding school for the first time. On her first night, she falls asleep and then wakes up forty years in the past in another girl’s body. They continue to switch back and forth every time they sleep in the bed, but then Charlotte in the past is sent away from school to stay at a lodging house. This leaves her stuck in Clare’s life and unable to figure out how to sleep in the dorm bed and return to her time. I liked this book better than the other one because it had a very haunted and stressful feeling to it, and I guess I resonated with that more. A lot of the time in these sort of books, the time travel is portrayed positively, but here the psychological horror of being stuck as someone else and slowly losing your identity is conveyed to great effect. The impact of WWI is also brought home, as well as the influenza epidemic. Overall, Farmer’s ability to get across a claustrophobic combination of boarding school life and trying to figure out how to return to one’s normal time made this a unique take on the time travel novel.