The Time Machine Next Door: Explorers and Milkshakes and The Time Machine Next Door: Scientists and Stripy Socks

The Time Machine Next Door: Explorers and Milkshakes
The Time Machine Next Door: Scientists and Stripy Socks

Iszi Lawrence, illustrated by Rebecca Bagley
Bloomsbury Education

These are the first of a new series of historical adventures for younger primary readers.
Explorers and Milkshakes begins with the announcement that Sunil is in BIG trouble. We soon find out that while at home alone he’s accidentally broken a prized gramophone record of his grandfather’s and needs to fix it at top speed before his parents discover what has happened.

It just so happens that next door lives the eccentric Alex, owner and inventor of a time machine: could this Boring Machine or BM as she calls it, provide a highly unusual solution to the boy’s problem?

Before you can say ‘belly button’ Sunil finds himself on a hair-raising trip during which he encounters the likes of famous astronaut Neil Armstrong, and then visiting Antarctica and meeting Ernest Shackleton and some of his fellow explorers (plus a cat) stranded as they head for the South Pole. BRRR!

All of this happens while Sunil is trying his utmost to steer clear of the strange Mr Shaykes and kiwi companion.

In Scientists and Stripy Socks, Mr Shaykes announces that his Interesting Machine is in need of repair and if Alex doesn’t fix it for him, the milkshake cafe will ‘go bust’. But then his mention of Charles Darwin arouses Sunil’s interest and off he sets on another time-travelling caper. He learns a considerable amount about earthworms thanks to Charles, as he asks Sunil to call him when they take tea together.

He also temporarily loses his toe when he meets physicist Isaac Newton; in fact he briefly loses several body parts in this adventure. The final part of this book includes a discussion with astronomer Caroline Herschel; but with Alex’s time machine increasingly unpredictable, will our intrepid adventurer get back before Sunil’s mum and dad come home?

Giggles aplenty await when you read these two wacky stories as well as a considerable amount of information. Iszi Lawrence offers an unusual and very entertaining way to introduce readers to famous people from history. Adding to the fun are Rebecca Bagley’s black and white illustrations.

Blackbeard’s Treasure

Blackbeard’s Treasure
Iszi Lawrence
Bloomsbury Education

This is a swashbuckling adventure set in the Caribbean in the early eighteenth century and features real pirates.

Eleven year old Abigail Buckler lives with her father, a plantation owner; she’s being brought up as a young lady wearing the finest clothes and isn’t allowed to play in them or go out alone. Abigail is resentful of the fact that Boubacar, a young slave who is being trained as a clerk, gets more of her father’s attention than she does. 

However all that changes when pirates attack, slaying Major Buckler. Abigail starts to question everything she has come to understand about right and wrong, and ultimately about family, as she and Boubacar embark on the Salt Pig, a ship crewed by pirates and bound for Nassau.

Abigail makes some highly unlikely friends, a surprise revelation is made about Boubacar and both of them face numerous life-threatening situations and ups and downs in their relationship during the next two or three months, with Abigail having to take a number of difficult decisions. 

Will she and Boubacar be able to hang on to their very existence?

What a dazzling cast and where there are pirates there must surely be treasure somewhere; or is there? ARRRR! that would be telling.

This tale will have you on the edge of your seat as the plot twists this way and that, while at the same time providing a wealth of historical detail about the Atlantic slave trade, the damage caused by empire and the human losses resulting from the provision of such luxuries as sugar and tobacco to Europeans.

Billie Swift Takes Flight

Billie Swift Takes Flight
Iszi Lawrence
Bloomsbury Education

This story is set in 1942 and yes World War 2 is a period fairly often used in children’s fiction. but this is something altogether different.

Twelve-year old Billie Swift would much rather spend time in the company of her mum’s chickens than with other humans. She finds school boring, though she’s bright and a quick learner with an avid interest in planes.

One day when out cycling with her favourite chicken Susan, Billie suddenly sees a Spitfire crash in a field. Knowing better than to go close up and investigate in case of fire, she dashes home thinking to herself, “That is the second time you’ve murdered someone” and she’s not proud of herself. However she remains concerned about the fate of the pilot as well as her brother’s bike (which she needs to retrieve); but when she returns to the site, there’s no sign of the plane.

Before long she’s managed – not entirely honestly – to become a member of the ATA cadets, meeting lots of pilots – men and women – who against the odds, fly planes from factories to the front lines; and she too learns to fly. At the airfield she meets all kinds of people including the person she thinks was piloting the ‘crashed’ spitfire whom she begins to suspect is a Nazi spy.

On a mission to find out the truth and to clear her friend Nancy’s name,(accused of smuggling)) Billie finds herself in increasing danger and towards the end of the story there are some very frightening moments that left me with my heart in my mouth.

Truly inspiring, full of the spirit of the time and with so many real life people who were the inspiration for Iszi Lawrence’s characters, this is a book that brilliantly evokes a part of history where relatively little of the fictional focus has been on women. It helps to bring their contribution to the notice of today’s readers, many of whom won’t be much younger than Billie herself.

Definitely a book I recommend for anyone learning about WW2 at school, either as a class read aloud or a solo read; and for home reading by children who love an exciting tale.