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Adventure in Athens – at a glance
The School Reading Lists’ five word review: skilfully presented gripping suspense story.
Children’s book title: Time Travel Diaries: Adventure in Athens.
Children’s author: by Caroline Lawrence.
Published by: Picadilly Press.
Recommended for children aged: 9-12.
First published: Paperback May 2020.
This children’s book is ideal for: KS2 children who enjoy history, adventure and using their imagination.
O! the fierce wretchedness that glory brings us.
Who would not wish to be from wealth exempt
Since riches point to misery and contempt?
These searing lines from Timon of Athens (although possibly not written by Shakespeare) were never far from my mind while reading this latest time-travel fantasy from Caroline Lawrence.
Alex and Dinu are mates at a south London school. Their main preoccupations are playing and making computer games (particularly Ancient Greek Assassins) and trying to impress their classmates (particularly some of the girls.) Everyone seems to want the same things: fame and wealth. In pursuit of both, they are sent back (again) to Ancient Athens to find out what Socrates was like, what he said, what he did all day. By accident, Dinu’s sister Crina comes along too.
I really enjoyed this book from start to finish, for three main reasons.
First, no time was wasted trying to persuade the reader about the plausible viability of some sort of ‘time-portal.’ They can’t exist, so why should anyone accept they might? We are told simply that there is one and that the characters use it.
Second, the descriptions of what life in a city 2500 years ago must really have been like, for rich and poor, are compelling and credible. A lot of research has obviously gone into this. The compactness of ancient Athens, its everyday sights, sounds and smells, the casual brutality, the strange conventions and the convincing sense that people in history always regard themselves as modern and advanced in their attitudes and opinions – all are skilfully presented and interwoven in a gripping suspense story.
Last, the portrayals of Socrates and his pupil, the young Plato, are believable and moving. It’s been said that all philosophy is just a series of footnotes to Socrates. I’m trying to avoid a cliché, but it’s true: the ancient philosophers, poets and playwrights of Greece and Rome have things to tell us which are directly relevant to our lives today. When our travellers return, they find that their old ambitions seem flippant and meaningless and that some of their peers are learning this too.
In our age the obsessions with money, celebrity and power don’t look like disappearing any time soon. Perhaps we’re stuck with them and their terrible consequences. But if this book helps some youngsters see through the illusion, I say: well done!
Many thanks to Picadilly Press for the review copy.
If you like these books you might also like The Time Travel Diaries Book 1 by Caroline Lawrence, Roman Mysteries Complete Collection by Caroline Lawrence, Aquila by Andrew Norriss, and Julius Zebra by Gary Northfield.
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