American history teacher Nathan Greene looked at his bulletin board. How did Benedict Arnold become the second president of the United States? And who the heck was Shippen Jefferson? Where were John Adams and John Quincy Adams? Shaken, Greene pulled down his map of the United States. He scanned the map: no major changes.
“Mr. Greene,” Victor Bridges called out. “Tennessee is missing!’
Greene’s jaw dropped. Where Tennessee had once proudly been, there was now “Franklin.”
Had Greene and his high school students inadvertently changed history with their field trip to the Philadelphia of 1776? There had been no such repercussions the previous spring when Greene took his class to Ford’s Theater for the fateful performance of “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater on the evening of April 14, 1865. That spring trip had been such a success that his students fell in love with history and begged for another trip for their junior year.
But somehow the Philadelphia field trip had caused a “butterfly effect” in the historical timeline evicting John Adams and John Quincy from the White House and erasing the prominence of the Adams family from American history. The ghost of Harvard Historian Henry Brooks Adams, great-grandson of John Adams, was pitching a fit and now Greene was facing an inquiry by a panel of dead historians led by Thucydides himself. Greene was beginning to rue the day he purchased a strange box at a rummage sale at the Cassadaga Hotel, the cosmic center of Cassadaga, Florida, “The Psychic Capital of the World,” and home to scores of psychics and mediums and a plethora of phantasms, including an overabundance of the ghosts of forgotten historians from Henry Adams to Howard Zinn.
How was Greene to know that the box he bought was a duplicate of Pandora’s? How was he to know that the box contained Nikola Tesla’s prototype for a time travel device that jealous rival Thomas Alva Edison had stolen from the Serbian-born inventor and hidden in the basement of the Cassadaga Hotel shortly after “The Wizard of Menlo Park” received an honorary degree from nearby Rollins College in February of 1930? Tesla’s assembly instructions were a snap to follow, and the initial field trip had gone so well that Greene decided to try a fall field trip to colonial Philadelphia. But something had gone wrong; what had they done? Therein lies the tale.
The most dangerous thing about time travel is how easy it is to accidentally change the course of history.
Minerva was by far my favorite character in this class. Her quick thinking and leaderships skills aren’t apparent right away, but when she and her classmates face unexpected dangers in Philadelphia her deepest strengths are revealed. What was even more interesting was to see how she interacted with her teacher and the other students. The smartest and strongest among us don’t always end up being the best leaders, and it was entertaining to see how other personality factors influence which members of a group are called upon to make decisions at critical moments.
For a story of this length there were quite a few people to get to know in the beginning. Mr. Black’s repetition of their relationships and personalities helped me to remember who was who, though, and by the time I’d read several chapters I had a good understanding of all of the main and most of the secondary characters. Given that the plot demanded everyone be introduced at once the repetition was a useful tool, and I was grateful for the reminders as critical moments in the tale.
It was difficult to determine the correct age recommendation for this story. While most of the characters are in high school the humor in a particular subplot involving bathroom hijinks seemed like it would be more appealing for the late elementary or middle school crowd. The interactions between two characters who slowly realize how much their emotions are shifting will appeal to older readers, though, and it is for this reason that I’m recommending this for 12+ age group with the understanding that it is a flexible number. There is nothing in the tale that would be inappropriate for advanced 10 or 11 year olds, and the historical references and detailed descriptions of life in 1776 easily appeal to older readers as well.
The final scene of this tale catapulted the rating to a solid 4 stars. I grew slightly concerned about pacing as the plot advanced because so much time was dedicated to the beginning of the journey, but Mr. Black surprised me with a few tricks up his sleeve at the last minute that bumped him up to a higher rating.
Tesla’s Time Travelers is as much fun for older readers as it is for the age group for which it was originally intended. I highly recommend it to history buffs of all ages, and I hope to hear more from Mr. Greene and his students soon.