Tag Archives: time travel

TOM’S MIDNIGHT GARDEN by Philippa Pearce


Our last mother-daughter book club pick for 2013-2014 was Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce. The combination of the end of the year’s competing activities and projects and a book that had some difficult words and a confusing plotline meant that not too many of the girls read the book (including mine). But I read it, so I should get a blog post out of it, right?

Add Tom’s Midnight Garden to the list of grade school fiction that involves time travel, along with A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle and When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead (reviewed here). It takes place in the late 1800s. Tom, the main character, has been banished from his home due to his younger brother’s measles. He is sent to live with his aunt and uncle in their apartment in a large house a few hours away by train. The apartment is small and confining, with a small parking lot in the back, but Tom goes exploring in the middle of the night and discovers a huge, beautiful garden at the back of the house that only appears at night.

During his nocturnal escapades in the garden, Tom meets a young girl named Hattie, and they become friends and playmates. Hattie lives in Victorian England and is an orphan who has been adopted by her aunt’s family. Tom visits the garden every night, but Hattie quickly grows older, surpassing Tom in age. She tells Tom that he only visits her once every few months, while from his perspective, ┬áhe goes to see Hattie every night that he is staying at his aunt and uncle’s house.

Like most books about time travel, this one hurt my head, in a good way. Is Tom or Hattie a ghost? Why can’t anyone else see Tom other than Hattie and the old gardener, who thinks Tom is the devil? Hattie leaves Tom a pair of ice skates in a secret spot in her room, which he finds in his present day – so was she real? What is Hattie’s connection to the house?

I like time travel books (Time and Again, The Time Traveler’s Wife), and I liked Tom’s Midnight Garden. I definitely liked it more than the other moms and girls who read it. Most thought that it was hard to get into, that it was confusing (true), and that the end wasn’t clear. I found the historical aspects interesting, and was very touched by the relationship between Tom and Hattie. It is apparently a beloved book in England, and was ranked the country’s second-favorite kids’ book of all time in 2007.

If you have a middle grade reader who loves time travel and won’t get turned off by some old-fashioned writing and unfamiliar words, give Tom’s Midnight Garden a try. Just be forewarned that it wasn’t popular with my crew.

WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead

This month’s mother-daughter book club pick was When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, one of those books that’s billed as YA but which I saw all over the place when it came out in 2009, suggesting that its appeal goes well beyond kids’ fiction. (It won the Newbery in 2010.)


When You Reach Me takes place on the Upper West Side in the 1970s, and is about Miranda, the daughter of a single mother, who has become estranged from her best friend Sal, a boy who lives upstairs from her. The two were walking home from school one day when out of the blue, he was punched by another kid. From that day on, their friendship was over, despite Miranda’s attempts to engage Sal and recover what they had. In the meantime, a cast of odd characters is filled out, including Marcus, the boy who punched Sal; a homeless man who lives on the corner and sleeps with his head under a mailbox; and Annemarie, a girl Miranda befriends who partially fills the void left by Sal. And some mysterious notes start appearing in Miranda’s apartment, each one making reference to events that hadn’t happened yet. Who could know these personal things about Miranda, and how did he or she know things that even Miranda didn’t know yet?

Books about time travel always make my head hurt – in a good way – and this one was no exception. References to A Wrinkle in Time abound (Miranda is reading it when When You Reach Me takes place), and there is a suggestion of the possibility of time travel throughout the book, as Miranda discusses it with her friends.

But it wasn’t the time travel that drew me into this book. It was the depiction of a lonely, 1970s latchkey childhood – a far cry from the overprotective, overscheduled lives middle-graders live now. Miranda spent a lot of time alone, with few people to talk to about her disappointments, sadness, and anxiety. I liked that the characters were not one-dimensional; even the rich girl/bully turns out to be smart and redeeming in the end. And the explanation at the end of where the notes came from and who wrote them was satisfying, if a bit headache-inducing. Miranda’s relationship with Sal is explained, if not rehabilitated, and she finds other flawed but rewarding friends to spend time with.

Here’s a great interview with Rebecca Stead on Amazon.

I think this is a great book for kids. It is a story about relationships and friendship wrapped up in science fiction and mystery. Miranda is a formidable heroine – she is self-sufficient and independent, but not infallible.

Our book club meets this Sunday – I expect that this one will be well-received by the group.

Book Giveaway

I received an advance copy of a new book that I’d like to give away to someone who’d like to read it. The book is called Maggie Again, by John Husband. If you liked Time and Again and are watching Journeyman this season, then this book may be for you.

The description:

Life is idyllic for four rural Indiana teens until one of them, Maggie, moves to New York City with her parents in this time-warp set in the summer of 1926 and 1984.  When Maggie’s three childhood friends hop a boxcar to visit her in New York, their journey takes a magical turn, catapulting them to the year 1984 un-aged to meet a 76-year-old Maggie. On their return to 1926, they try to manipulate events in their favor, only to find that "time" is a fickle chronicler of events.

This book is due out in January 2008. You can read more about it at http://maggieagain.com/. If you’d like this review copy, send me an email at gweiswasser@gmail.com.