Inspiring Young Readers

posted on 14 Mar 2019

The Time Travel Diaries by Caroline Lawrence

One of the great regrets of my life was the fact that I was forced to make a choice when I was about 14 to go on and study either history or geography for my end of school exams. I opted for geography and, fascinating and important though that subject is, it’s a decision that’s haunted me ever since. I truthful now think that history is a subject everyone should be made to study without the option of abandoning it at an age when you’re least well-equipped to make such a decision.

Since that fateful time I feel like I’ve been doing very little but back-fill what I should have been encouraged to explore back in my early teens. I’ve found that my love of reading has been invaluable to me in this respect – and not just in terms of non-fiction. A good deal of my knowledge of the complexities and subtleties of our history comes, in fact, from reading fiction.

One of the key lessons I’ve learned since leaving school all those years ago is that the divisions between academic subject areas like history, geography, literature, sciences etc. are entirely meaningless and that interest and understanding in any discipline will always lead you into the others. In this respect all  fiction is historical fiction and attaching the distinctive label ‘historical fiction’ to novels set in the past is less than helpful.

Having said that, Caroline Lawrence has developed an impressive reputation as a writer of historical fiction for young and young adult readers – especially fiction bringing alive the Roman and Classical world. The Time Travel Diaries is her latest publication and takes her readers back to explore Roman London using the very modern device of time travel.

Alex Papas seems in most ways an unremarkable schoolboy except for the fact that he can speak Greek (his family background) and he’s learning Latin. These are qualities that bring him to the attention of the billionaire, Solomon Daisy who is looking for someone to take part in his time travel experiments. He wants Alex to go back in time to Roman London and find out all he can about a young girl with blue eyes and a distinctive knife made with an ivory handle in the shape of a panther. There’s millions of pounds on offer to Alex as an incentive and as a potential compensation for the dangers he will face.

At first Alex is torn – is the money worth the danger? After all, he’s not the first to do it and he has had some tips from his predecessor, Martin, about what he faces – including the dangers of materialising and finding himself merged with a solid object! So, in the end, he decides he’ll go through with it – what can go wrong if he sticks to the rules of time travel and follows Martin’s tips and leads? And he’ll be so rich that his family will never have to worry again.

All well and good you might think but there are a couple of problems he hadn’t anticipated – he’s unexpectedly followed through the time portal by Dinu his mortal enemy at school, a lump of a boy who always steals his salt and vinegar crisps; and, it turns out. Martin’s told him a load of lies about what he’s going to encounter.

Will Alex find the blue-eyed girl? Will he even make it back from the past? What’s he going to do about Dinu?

You wont be surprised to hear that I’m not telling you – you’ll have to read it for yourself!

This is a rip-roaring adventure that’s jam-packed with lots of information about Roman Britain that the author builds into the story or slips in as added detail – a painless, boredom-free history lesson. If you want a young reader to discover just how exciting and alive history can be, Caroline Lawrence has the perfect formula to engage them.

Cunningly, Lawrence has also left the time travel portal open wide enough to suggest that Alex might be off on other adventures in the not too distant future. Now that’s something to look forward to.


Terry Potter

March 2019