Prince Edward County’s Newspaper of Record
May 20, 2024
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Local author brings PEC heritage to life for a new generation

<p>The Key to Time: Treasure at Sandbanks</p>
The Key to Time: Treasure at Sandbanks

Treasure at Sandbanks: The Key to Time, Book One, by Lynne Grist, Illustrated by Teresa Westervelt, cover art by Tom Harrison (2023).

Local author Lynne Grist has written a historical fiction aimed at readers in the 8-11 years range. I read this book with two eight-year-old boys, aloud, at bedtime, a few chapters a night. The cliff-hangers at the end of each chapter had them clamoring for more. Bright eyed, they thought through what they’d heard, postulating ideas, and triumphing with an “I knew it” when they’d got the clues right. Time travel doesn’t faze an eight-year-old: of course it’s 1758. Or 1811. Or now.

The book is focalized through an 11-year-old girl. She resents her over-enthusiastic six-year-old brother and so is skeptical about the “treasure” in the plot, but she is easily converted by discovering the magic of time travel. As are readers.

After hearing an old story about a treasure chest buried by French soldiers in the eighteenth century, brother and sister discover an antique key, which, when polished, transports them back to the very scene. But when they return to the present, they find that the location has changed so much that the treasure cannot be found.

As they strive to find more clues to its location (including a folding map that comes with the book), subsequent polishings of the key take them to different points in history over the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, where they encounter a great diversity of characters: soldiers, First Nations families, a landless black servant in a Loyalist family, and Quakers. Over their visits, which gradually approach the present, the children meet descendants of the people they’ve already met. Recurring characters include a terrific set of Victorian sisters who grow old over several visits. The characters often represent real historical figures, with locally recognizable names like Pettet and Tubbs.

Each visit in time includes descriptions of various locations in the Sandbanks area, and chart environmental and architectural changes.

What might feel pedantic to a parent—Wikipedia-style soundbites placed into the mouths of characters—breeze right by the intended audience who absorb the history and geography lessons as normal. There is the pleasure of recognition for children who have been to Sandbanks: it is well described. There is a pleasure of alienation as well (more perhaps for a parent), with the imaginative description of Sandbanks as it must have appeared nearly 300 years ago: the trees are taller, the dunes are higher and the river actually flowing.

The plot of the treasure hunt includes a layer of modern family drama. The children’s recently widowed mother struggles to provide a vacation for her children. The brother and sister, despite their age and gender differences, come to learn from each other, and discover the comfort of memory, both of those they have met across centuries of time travel, and of their lost father.

The importance of memory weaves these two plots together. The Treasure at Sandbanks underscores the continuity of history. A place and its people are constantly changing, but they leave behind signs of their existence, lasting marks of their contributions.

The book is well illustrated with simple pen-and-ink drawings. These illustrations give way to a few photographs at the end (some in a factual appendix designed to help readers understand the genre of historical fiction). This shift stresses continuity, making history real, and reminding young readers to participate in history, both by remembering and creating.

A sequel is promised, and our family, for one, is hooked.

This text is from the Volume 193 No. 31 edition of The Picton Gazette
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