Review of the Day: Time Spies - Secret In the Tower
Wizards of the Coast have their own publishing company for non-D&D/Magic the Gathering titles? Now I’ve seen everything. At this point in time, I’ll be entirely blunt with you. When I picked up this first book in the new “Time Spies” series, “Secret In the Tower”, I was not especially thrilled. But I’m a fair children’s librarian. I try to allow every book I read a chance to surprise me, though few actually take me up on the challenge. In the case of this “Time Spies” book, everything was working against it. For one thing, it’s a series book for kids that probably already love “The Magic Treehouse” and “The Chronicles of Droon”. And my familiarity with those two series has taught me that when good authors like Mary Pope Osborne (as with her “Pompeii" book) and Tony Abbott (as with “Firegirl”) write series fiction for the early-chapter set, often the books are two-dimensional dribble with some of the worst dialogue on the planet. Hopes were, needless to say, not high for “Time Spies”. So I started reading... and reading... and reading... until it suddenly occurred to me what it was I held in my hands. This is a series book, yes, but it’s more than halfway decent. About the time I discovered that the youngest child had a stuffed elephant named Ellsworth, I was sold. You absolutely have to have series books in your home and library? Well, bypass all the other books out there and take a turn with “Time Spies”. If you’re gonna do historical series fiction for young ‘uns, you may as well do it right.
Alex, Mattie, and Sophie are all dealing with their recent move with their parents to a renovated country inn in the middle of Virginia in different ways. Five-year-old Sophie’s cool with it, eight-year-old Alex is excited by it, and nine-year-old Mattie is seriously perturbed. Once they arrive at the house their parents have bought, the kids discover that parts of the building date back to colonial times. There’s also a mysterious Revolutionary War reenactor there who tells them about the history of the region. When the three discover an old spyglass in one of the house’s hidden rooms, suddenly they are sent back in time to fulfill a job of the utmost importance. Codes, revolutionary heroes, and spies abound when these kids become messengers from the future to the past.
So what sets this apart from all the other “Magic Tree House” knock-offs on the market today? Well, for one thing, it’s far better written than any of the “Magic Tree House” books churned out. If you know of a kid that’s read all of Ms. Osborne’s series, you would do very well to encourage them to move on to “Time Spies” as they are similarly historically-minded. The book moves fast so that kids reading it won’t get bored, but at the same time you get a clear view of who the characters are right from the start. Facts about the time period they’re dealing with (in this case, both the Revolutionary War and the ride of Jack Jouette) are dealt with in kid-friendly but factual terms. The book also happens to be both understandable and exciting, a rare early chapter book combo. Ransom, to her credit, never leaves ends dangling or details swaying in the wind. If there’s a mystery at the end of the book, that’s only there so that kids will be enticed to read future books in the “Time Spies” series. Extra points to “Secret In the Tower” for including some of the little known George Washington spy info too often ignored in kid lit.
I’m obviously not saying that “Secret In the Tower” is going to win huge awards and revolutionize the way we read series books or anything. I just happen to know that finding quality books for kids of this reading level can be hard sometimes. If you’re gonna hand them a series, you may as well make it a good one. You may as well also make it “Time Spies”. It’s worthy of your consideration.