Lost in the Tunnel of Time by Sharon M. Draper. Aladdin, 2011. This middle grade adventure book is one in a series by Draper focusing on four high spirited boys living in Cincinnati. They've have been friends since first grade. In this story they are 10 years old and excited to go on a field trip to the Ohio River with their classmates and teacher Mrs. Powell. They are delighted to discover she has invited an older gentleman they know from the neighborhood to accompany them to the river. Mr. Greene shares a story of family history and mystery when he tells the boys and girls about his grandfathers' midnight journey to escape slavery on the Underground Railroad. Later in the week he lends them an actual map of the tunnels under their school that have been abandoned for a hundred years. You can imagine what happens when the boys decide to just take a look under the mysterious trap door behind the school stage. This is a really masterful telling of the history of the Underground Railroad in a way that makes it come alive to modern kids who love adventure, are amazed at the lives of heroes, and are still a little scared of the dark.
What I like best about this book is the lively, natural, and thoroughly believable voices of the four boys. Each one has a clearly articulated and celebrated character with strengths and weaknesses. I can almost hear them speak aloud from the pages, with all their likes and dislikes, fears and foibles. Ziggy is a little wild and unpredictable, always forgetting his homework and dipping pickles in his hot chocolate. Rico likes to keep his notebook papers in order and is careful to plan everything out following the rules. Jerome is a problem solver and thinker, who notices cute girls. Rashawn is a little shyer and likes to appear tough and loves to laugh. Ziggy is scared of monsters, Jerome is scared of bugs, Rico is scared of the dark, and Rashawn is scared of tornadoes. What the boys love to eat and what they are scared of is important in the stories, just as it is important to real boys and girls who read them.
I've read a couple of the books in the series and really like the pacing, the strong character development, and the humor. The boys I've read the stories aloud to are hooked from the first page and eager to follow the the end. This series is a really great launch for readers about to take off in independent reading. There are six books in the series. Sharon M. Draper is a really great writer with exciting books for teens too.