A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Leila Sales' Once Was a Time isn't going to be every kid's dish, but tween girl BFFs looking nervously at the forces conspiring against them (mean girls, international warfare, and plain old change) will find it engaging and empowering. The violence of World War II plays a key role in the story, as spies kidnap children and shoot at them, a professor's time travel research is being pursued as a weapon against Hitler, and some characters die. There's a bit of an old-fashioned sensibility, as suggested by the fact that Lottie's favorite book, which plays a crucial role in the plot, is A Little Princess. And there's a similar theme of persistence through adversity bringing unexpected, and very satisfying, rewards.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
As World War II rages in 1940, 10-year-olds Lottie and her best friend Kitty live in Bristol, England, where Lottie's father, a scientist, is working on a top-secret project involving time travel -- which, Lottie suspects, is part of a plan to go back in time and prevent the war from happening by killing Hitler as a baby. Bookish Lottie isn't that interested, especially when her dad points out that if you go through a portal in time you'll probably never get to go back. Kitty, on the other hand, says she'd love it, though she'd never go through a portal without Lottie. But after Lottie's father disappears, and spies kidnap the girls and are about to kill them, worlds collide and Lottie lands in 2013 Wisconsin, not knowing what's happened to her loved ones but fearing the worst.
Is it any good?
Leila Sales crafts a fast-paced, engaging, sometimes heartrending tale of two 10-year-old BFFs determined not to let World War II or anything else tear them apart -- and then something does. ONCE WAS A TIME isn't the first story or the last to plunge a kid from another era into a 21st-century American middle school, but it's one of the more intriguing. Sales has a light touch with the life lessons, letting her protagonist figure things out for herself rather than jumping in with sermons. Sophisticated readers may roll their eyes a bit at how conveniently potentially plan-derailing issues work themselves out -- as when Lottie, determined to tag along on a classmate's trip to Italy on short notice, miraculously has a passport already (which, considering she's an undocumented time traveler, is a bit much). But the girls' struggles against insurmountable forces to stay connected will grab many a young reader, and book-loving kids will find Lottie especially relatable:
"Everyone in my family read during dinner, and pretty much all the rest of the time, too. I had A Little Princess in my lap, and as soon as Dad finished telling us about time travel, I was planning to read (for the eleventh time) the scene where Sara makes Miss Minchin cross by being secretly fluent in French. A Little Princess is my favorite book. I took it out of the library six times in a row before I had saved up enough pocket money to buy my own copy."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about time travel. Do you think it's possible? Why do you think people find it such a fascinating idea? Which other time travel stories have you read or seen on-screen?
If a kid from another time and place suddenly landed in your town, what do you think would be the hardest things for them to deal with?
Do you and your best friend have a plan for staying connected if things get weird?
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