by Josh Lacey
There are two sides to every story.
That’s obvious, isn’t it? A truism.
And yet when we study history, we often see things from only one side, or instinctively divide the story into goodies and baddies, us and them.
In my new series, the Time Travel Twins, I have used a pair of twins to explore historical events from two opposing perspectives. You can't have “us and them” or “goodies and baddies” if you’re seeing the same events through the eyes of two kids on opposite sides of the story.
When I was planning the series, I chose eras and themes that children study at primary school, and particularly the subjects which are recommended in the Key Stage 2 history curriculum. The first two books in the series are about the Vikings and the Romans. Future books include the Stone Age and the Maya.
My main characters, Thomas and Scarlett, are lucky enough to have an eccentric genius for a grandfather. He has built a time machine in his workshop. When Thomas and Scarlett step through the machine’s doorway and travel through time, they are split up, and each twin ends up on the opposite side of an exciting historical event.
In The Viking Attack, the twins go back to the year 859. Thomas lands on a Viking ship which is tossing on the waves, heading towards the shore. He persuades the sailors that he’s an ally, not an enemy, and accompanies his new friends on a rampage to steal food and treasure. Meanwhile Scarlett is in a village whose inhabitants nervously await the arrival of some brutal raiders; how can they defend themselves and their possessions? Scarlett joins forces with a boy named Alfred (alert readers will recognise the name as belonging to a future king) and together they prepare to fight for their lives.
In The Roman Invasion, the twins travel to the year 43. Scarlett joins the family of the emperor Claudius, who has brought a massive Roman army to conquer a barbarous island on the borders of his empire. Meanwhile Thomas meets a group of kids who are determined to resist these invaders, and befriends their leader, a fierce girl named Bou (which Thomas soon discovers is short for Boudicca).
By dividing the twins, and putting each of them on a different side, I wanted to point out that history might be written by the winners, but events are experienced by all sides, all participants - even the ones whose voices have never been heard. The narrative of the Roman invasion, for instance, has been relayed to us only by Roman authors. Boudicca and her compatriots left no trace of their own side of the story.
I hope teachers will find these books very useful as a complement to their history lessons. I’ve tried to bring historical events alive by imagining them through the eyes of contemporary kids who are sent back in time. I hope readers will be inspired to imagine themselves in different time periods, and I hope teachers will use these books as a spur for creativity.
The books are full of historical details, which are described in the text, and brilliantly illustrated by Garry Parsons. He has drawn houses, tools, weapons, costumes, boats, and a wealth of other everyday objects, and his drawings really bring the history to life. I find his artwork very inspiring - they make me want to grab a pencil and make my own drawings of characters and incidents in the books - and I hope teachers and pupils will too.
Perhaps teachers will ask their pupils to build a time machine. They could use a cardboard box or simply transform a doorway.
What will happen when you click a switch to turn on the machine and step through the doorway? Where will you find yourself after you travel through time?
Imagine stepping through a doorway and traveling back to the year 43 or the year 859 - what would be different? What is the first thing that you see? What would you smell and hear? Are you standing on a Viking longboat? Or sheltering in an Anglo-Saxon hut? Are you among the Romans? Or have you joined a small band of kids who are using sticks and stones to fight against some heavily-armed invaders?
What if different pupils end up on different sides of a conflict? One with the Vikings, another among the Anglo-Saxons. One with the Romans, another alongside Boudicca. What will they see differently? How will their particular perspective transform their understanding of events?
I hope readers will want to know more about the historical events and personalities that I’ve used in the books. Some are real - Boudicca, Claudius, Alfred - and others are invented. I also hope the books will mesh nicely with the work that they’re doing at school, and help to inspire a wealth of creative tasks to deepen their study and understanding of human history.
As a historian, you have to use evidence, but also empathy and imagination. You need to try to imagine events from both perspectives. I hope young readers of the Time Travel Twins will hear and appreciate the message that no story, and no historical event, is really about us and them, goodies and baddies. There are always (at least) two sides to every story.