If only we could predict time future or change time past. If only we could make time speed up, slow down, or even stop. Instead, we run out of time, or have too much time on our hands. We’re always trying to steal a bit of it, and getting upset when we lose or waste it. Time blithely ignores all our efforts to control it.
“Time creeps. Time sprints. Time leaps. Time stumbles…Now and then, time stands still.” Thus speaks Jeptha A. Stone, a marble monument in my MG novel “Every Single Second”. Jeptha resides in a cemetery, where he’s got plenty of time (!) to contemplate its slippery nature.
Researching the novel, I marveled at all the ingenious ways humans have concocted to measure its passage, from sundials to water clocks, hour glasses to star maps. Today scientists can measure time in units called attoseconds: one hundred attoseconds is to one second as one second is to three hundred million years. (pause here for a dizzy spell).
And yet, isn’t it a little arbitrary, maybe even arrogant, to try to pin down something so cunning and elusive? Nella, my book’s main character, is driven crazy by the concept of infinity. How can something have no beginning or end? Her sweet nerdy friend Clem longs to time travel, even though her scientist father warns her that it will always be impossible to return to the past. Time runs forever forward. Why? We still don’t know.
Some of the most beloved MG novels of all you-know-what ponder the notion of time. Just to mention three:
The hands-down champion is, of course, “A Wrinkle in Time” and the other books in Madelein L’Engle’s “Time Quintet”. Meg and Charles Wallace’s scientist father is researching the tesseract, that wrinkle which allows for travel in time and space, when he goes missing. They set off to find him.
The book won the Newbery, and so did Rebecca Stead’s staggeringly brilliant homage to it. In “When You Reach Me”, Miranda receives notes from what clearly is her own future.
Another classic, by my lights too often overlooked, is Philippa Pearce’s “Tom’s Midnight Garden”. When the clock in his aunt and uncle’s apartment strikes thirteen, Tom is flabbergasted to find the deserted alley behind has become a lush garden. He meets another child, from another time, who is no less surprised than he is.
Since 1962, when “Wrinkle” was published, the science of time has grown ever more mind-blowing. Yet it’s dizzying and exciting and somehow gratifying to know that every discovery scientists makes engenders many new questions. What we know is far less than what we don’t, and time still has the last chuckle on us. No wonder we can’t stop reading and writing about it.
Please add your own time-themed favorites below!
Tricia’s newest MG books are “Every Single Second” and “Cody and the Mysteries of the Universe”. Time is always getting away from her, especially when she’s reading. You can visit her at triciaspringstubb.com
The idea of time travel and controlling time is so fascinating. Wonderful post. I will be checking out Tom’s Midnight Garden. I LOVE When You Reach Me and hope to make time to read it again one of these days.
This is a really interesting post. I haven’t read Tom’s Midnight Garden, but you’ve made me want to run out and get it. Tuck Everlasting is another classic middle grade that plays with time. I’m wondering what it is about middle grade kids and their cognitive development that makes them open to this topic. Does anyone out there know about anything written by educators or psychologists on kids’ awareness of time and how it develops as they grow?