When I requested a copy of Chronal Engine by Greg Leitich Smith, I thought it was a young adult novel because it features teenagers as the main characters. After reading it, however, I believe it’s more likely to appeal to tweens and younger teens than older readers. I think it could also work for kids as young as nine or ten. Who can resist the combination of time travel and dinosaurs?
Max, Kyle and Emma are going to visit their grandfather in Texas for the summer while their mom works on an archeological dig in Mongolia. The twins, Kyle and Emma, aren’t sure how they feel about it. Max is the most excited because dinosaur footprints have been found in the riverbed nearby. Max is a complete and total dinosaur freak. Their grandfather has all kinds of cool books, fossils and artifacts lying around that he can hardly wait to check out.
“’Just how much of a creepy old hermit man is he, again?’ my sister, Emma, asked as Mom drove us up the hill to my grandfather’s ranch house.”
When they arrive, at first their crusty old grandfather isn’t the most welcoming person they’ve ever met. Still he insists that he’s rushed for time and they have to be shown the chronal engine one of their ancestors built that’s down in the basement. It’s a really weird looking machine, not like anything they’ve ever seen. They can’t believe it’s an actual working time machine. Those things don’t really exist, right? He quickly gives them several puzzling instructions because he predicts he will have a heart attack in just a few minutes, and then he does have one right on schedule. They find the whole thing unsettling to say the least.
“’It is time,’ Grandpa began again, and looked at Emma, Kyle, and me in turn, ‘for you to see the family legacy. Downstairs in the workshop. Petra, this concerns you as well.’
‘You don’t want dessert?’ Mrs. Castillo asked…
‘Perhaps the children would like some when we’re done. As for me…’ He hesitated. ‘Thank you, no. In fifteen minutes, the ambulance will be here to take me to the hospital after my massive heart attack.’”
Long story short: Max, Kyle, Emma, and the housekeeper’s daughter, Petra, soon find themselves back in the Cretaceous period after Emma is kidnapped and the others set out to rescue her in a VW bug of all things. And then the adventure really begins! They run into all kinds of dinosaurs from several T-Rex to Dromaeosaurs (similar to the Velociraptors in Jurassic Park) to Leptoceratops. And then there are the things they find that they know shouldn’t exist during that period. Very odd…
“Sitting in the center of the garage, next to a black Hummer and a bass boat on a trailer, was a brand-new lime-green Volkswagen Beetle with one of those after-market roof racks…This one had packs tied down with blue nylon rope.
A sheet of paper was taped to the driver’s side window. It contained a typed inventory of what had been packed on the roof and in the trunk. Also, handwritten, was a note that read, ‘Take whatever you think you’ll need, but don’t take the Hummer.’
‘Why not take the Hummer?’ Kyle asked. ‘It’s bigger.’
‘It’s bad for the prehistoric environment?’ I guessed.”
Greg Leitich Smith has written Chronal Engine in such a way that it’s a fun adventure with enough risk and danger to make it exciting but not so much danger that middle-grade kids will have nightmares. There’s also a family mystery that the kids have to solve. Each of the characters in this mystery/adventure has strengths that they all need to give them a better chance to survive this adventure and rescue Emma.
It’s clear that Smith has done timely research on the period and the dinosaurs that roamed it, to make Chronal Engine very believable and accurate. There are also illustrations, which add a nice touch. It’s a good book to give boys or girls because both will enjoy it. Smith’s web site even has an activity kit to go along with the book, which is very cool. When I was a kid, I would have jumped on a book like this one!
Chronal Engine was released on March 20, 2012, so it should be available from your favorite bookseller below. Just click the button to go there to get it.
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