The Root Cellar, by Janet Lunn (1983), is a classic Canadian time travel story….and so by rights it should have been featured here long ago. Thing was, I had it confused with another story about a root cellar and the underground railroad and time travel that I read years and years ago and hadn’t much enjoyed….I don’t know what that book or mishmash of other books I was thinking of, but it wasn’t this one, which it turns out I’d never read before! (Possible I was just so turned off the the really unattractive original cover I made up a story in my mind and never read any root cellar time travel books….).
In any event, it was a lovely surprise to find myself reading a really good new to me book!
Rose is an orphaned girl, raised, for a very paltry value of raised, by her grandmother. She’s never been friends with any children, and has never been shown any affection. When her grandmother dies, she’s sent off to live with her aunt and uncle, and their four boys, in an old house in Canada. The aunt and uncle are well meaning, but they don’t have the time and energy to help Rose start healing from her years of neglect, and Rose doesn’t feel wanted, and doesn’t want to be there. Then she finds the old root cellar that turns into a gateway to the past.
Back in the 1860s, Rose feels strangely happy. She’s able to make friends with two kids there–Will, the son of the house, and Susan, a servant girl. Time in the present doesn’t pass while she’s in the past, but Will and Susan are older when she next visits them. The Civil War is raging, and Will decides to go off and fight. When Rose goes back in time again, Will hasn’t come home. So she persuades Susan that they must go look for him, and so ensues a long and arduous journey to the crowded hospitals of Washington D.C., full of the horrors of war….
And that journey helps Rose grow emotionally, can find a place in her own time, with her own family.
It’s an engrossing story, and a fascinating one! Really quality time travel, and a must read for anyone who enjoys stories of children coming to grips with what it means to be a person amongst other people. Good Civil War history too.
(Home renovation-wise, I’m a bit appalled by the state of the aunt and uncle’s house; I would have been almost as horrified as Rose was and I like old houses! They need to get the walls fixed before winter comes!)