Nick of Time by Ted Bell. (Grades 4-7.)
Nick McIver is a resourceful 12-year-old boy living on the island of Greybeard in the English Channel which was "famous for having more cows than people". The year is 1939, the summer is stretching out before him and Nick has no greater concerns than sailing his boat around the island (without crashing!) and watching out for his little sister.
That is, until Nick finds out that his father's newly blossoming "bird watching" hobby is actually a spying mission for Winston Churchill. And pirates show up on the island. And Nick finds a strange sea chest with his name carved on it. And the more Nick learns about this sea chest, the wilder his adventures will become.
If you're looking for a rollicking adventure story, this will certainly fit the bill. It's written in an almost old-fashioned tone, reminiscent of classic adventure novels like The Swiss Family Robinson. The action starts from the first page and doesn't let up. There are daring near-wrecks at sea, pirates, spying, storms, a treasure chest, an eclectic recluse, submarines, underground armories, a kidnapping, sea battles... and, of course the time travel.
I have to say that I didn't fully buy into Nick's voice. To me, he sounded more like a modern-day American teen than a British boy from the 1930s. And I have to wonder if it wouldn't have been a beautiful, interesting historical fiction novel if Bell had left all the time travel out of it and concentrated on the political tensions of the coming war. However, I think it'll keep adventure fans turning the pages and looking for more. As follow-ups, I'd recommend Peter and the Starcatchers and Vampirates (if they don't mind the slightly scary).
Nick of Time is listed on both ACPL's Mock Newbery and the Anokaberry. And, of course, there was a bit of a kerfluffle about an interview with Ted Bell by Glenn Beck. It sparked a very interesting discussion over at Guys Lit Wire: "Do teenage boys need books with weak female characters?" At the very least, the post offers a bunch of great books with strong guys who save something other than wimpy girls.
Many thanks to St. Martin's Press for sending me a copy!