Title: A Message Through Time

Author: Anna Ciddor

PublisherAllen and Unwin

Publication date: 4 April 2023

Themes: Ancient Roman childhood, friendship, family dynamics, adventure, courage, resilience, gender roles, past and present

Additional notable information: Extremely comprehensive teachers’ notes can be downloaded from the Allen and Unwin website here.

A Message Through Time by Anna Ciddor and published by Allen and Unwin is a time-slip, historical fiction, adventure filled story and a standalone companion novel to The Boy Who Stepped Through Time. This story seamlessly weaves facts from Ancient Roman times and fiction together in a highly absorbing way. The time-slip technique is such a creative and accessible way for readers to be immersed in Ancient Roman society and vicariously experience Ancient Roman culture, way of life and opportunities. By using modern day characters and in this case, predominantly children; it is their voices, perspectives and essentially lens which is explored to view and understand the past. The meticulous research which Anna carried out with her sister, Tamara Lewit, a historian and archaeologist specialising in Roman times, involved extensive searches of both primary and secondary sources to reveal fascinating and detailed information about the lives and homes of people in Roman Gaul in 315 CE. These discoveries about the past enabled Anna to paint such a vivid picture which allows readers to immerse themselves in the way people lived, the sights, sounds, smells in Ancient Roman times. This assists in developing an understanding of what people ate, wore, the social structure, architecture, transport, slaves in Ancient Roman society, festivals and customs and uses factual information to set the imagination alight with another time.

In this story, 11 year old Felix and his new 15 year old stepsister, Zoe, are on holiday with their parents in France. Their relationship is strained and they don’t see eye to eye on much. When Felix discovers a message in a bottle claiming he had found a stylus that will transport the user of this tool back in time, Zoe becomes more disgruntled with her step brother as she vehemently denies that time travel exists. Felix is captivated by this stylus and determined to test it. He seizes a window of opportunity and in his haste thrusts not only himself, but also Zoe to the dung filled streets of Ancient Rome where carts pulled by mules travel the stone roads and all of the people are wearing long robes. They quickly discover this is a time very different to their own as they hear hawkers sell their wares such as “hedgehogs ash to clean your teeth”, “cure for a cough…get rid of it with horse saliva” and witness a woman grilling sparrows over a fire to sell as a meal. 

After much cajoling from Zoe, Felix agrees to use the stylus to return to their time, however Felix accidentally transports 12 year old Petronia, a high class Roman girl with them. What ensues is a thrilling adventure, as children from vastly different time periods must work together to return Petronia to her time. This tests their bond, sees the dynamics between Felix and Zoe change, but like any relationship it is not all smooth sailing (literally in this story) which sees each character challenged and grow in the face of adversity to ensure Petronia is reunited with her family.

This story shines a spotlight on children in Ancient Roman times and through their eyes gives fascinating insights into the past and different perspectives as Felix takes on the role of a slave and Zoe disguises herself as Petronia’s doctor which affords her privileges and extremely different treatment to Felix in Ancient Roman society.

All of the information about Ancient Rome is based on archaeological evidence. Primary sources were extensively used and include ancient letters, paintings, poems, recipes, farming manuals, mosaics, sculptures and archaeological remains of plants, animal bones, jewellery, coins, boats, and temples, offerings and altars at sacred springs. Tamara also contacted archaeologists and historians from around the world to find very specific details and read over one thousand books and articles.

At the end of the story is a glossary to support readers with unfamiliar concepts and further information about the facts in the story. There is a plethora of outstanding supporting material for this book. Anna Ciddor’s website (see link below) includes links to some of the primary sources explored, activity sheets and comprehensive teachers’ notes.

Anna Ciddor masterfully enables readers to step back in time and discover fascinating details about the past.

Anna shares more information about this book on her website here.

2 Responses

  1. Thank you for this most amazing, informed, in-depth review! I can’t believe how much detail and thought you have put into it. I am sure readers, parents and teachers will appreciate your dedication. 😍

    1. Thank you Anna for your very kind words. I always give my highest recommendation for your outstanding books and enjoy introducing children to them.

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