Books for middle school readers about the middle ages are too often dry affairs that favor historical fact over captivating magical scenes. This is far from the case in Stumbling on a Tale, the latest addition to the 'Time to Time Kids' series, which decorates its facts with the compellingly colorful embellishment of fiction.
A lively introduction firmly cements the adventure with a dose of historical explanation that creates a solid backdrop of world history, setting the stage for the story to follow.
Enter twelve-year-old Henry Hawkins and his older stepsister Peri, who are still developing their newfound relationship as siblings. Henry's stepsister isn't the shy, antisocial girl he'd envisioned a fifteen-year-old to be: she's precocious, curious, and always ready to step into trouble - and thus, she's at the top of his list of things to worry about.
They're again playing with a curious book that holds strange powers; this time trying to find out more about its author and publisher. When Max repeats the sequence of events that led to their last time-traveling history adventure, disaster once again strikes. This time they're not in 1900s New York City, but are in a forest in an era that feels much older.
The key to returning home lies in finding an antique. The only problem is that Max, who has brought them all here, has no idea what the antique is - and so they are looking for a needle in a haystack.
Knights, dragons, and lost siblings - oh my! Winding through the historical encounters are the real, contemporary concerns of kids who have had to make big adjustments to modern times.
It may take a return home to make these Middle Ages events make sense - and even then, life becomes more complicated when time travel adventures are added to the mix.
Quizzes, puzzles, riddles and games, activities, and even recipes at the conclusion of the story add value to this tale, which ends in a manner that paves the way for more time-traveling history explorations; but its real meat and protein lie in chapters packed with a vivid blend of adventure quest and historical insights.
As the siblings come to realize some of the meanings of the antiques, the book, and their encounters, they also come to absorb wisdom and more mature approaches to problem-solving and begin to understand how myths, quests, and history intersect.
A rollicking good adventure story spiced with real insights on past and present make Stumbling on a Tale a lively read highly recommended for any middle-grade fan of time travel action stories.