Time travel stories have been one of my favorite genres for a very long time. Whether the time travel device is an artifact, a magical object, or a science fiction time machine, it doesn’t matter. As long as the characters are from one time and somehow travel to another, it’s good. I can’t even remember the first book I read that had kids travelling back in time…Half Magic, maybe, or Time Cat. Or perhaps it was The Ship that Flew, by Hilda Lewis…
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It started with a toothache and an emergency trip to the dentist. Because his mother was ill, Peter was given some money and told to take the bus to the dentist to get a bad tooth pulled. After the appointment, his bus fare and extra allowance jingles in his pockets. With some time to waste before he has to catch the bus, Peter bypasses all the bright shops with cheap-looking toys, looking for something different. He walks down a curious, dark little street and discovers an old antique shop. In the window, Peter spots a tiny ship, carved from wood, with a boar’s head on the prow and tiny shields all down the side. It looks very old, and slightly mysterious. Something tells Peter that this little ship is special. When a very elderly man with a black eye patch opens the shop, Peter asks to look at the ship. He’s allowed to hold it. As he admires the ship, the old man tells him that it is older than anything he’s ever touched before; that no one alive could recreate a ship like that. When Peter asks the price, he’s told it’s more valuable than anything princes or emperors can buy; that it would cost him all his money and then some. Peter empties his pockets and gives the man everything he has…and to his amazement, leaves the shop with the tiny ship. And no bus money.
With very little time to make it home before tea, Peter skips the longer route across the cliffs and takes the dangerous shortcut across the beach. Unfortunately, he’s badly estimated the time. Suddenly, Peter finds himself trapped by the tide, with no way to go back to town or to go ahead home. His life is in grave danger! In despair, Peter wishes that he were at home…and suddenly, the tiny ship in his pocket starts to grow. It turns into a boat just large enough to hold one medium-sized boy. Peter climbs in, expecting to sail home, but instead the ship flies!
At home, Peter can’t wait to tell his sisters and brother–Sheila, Humphrey and Sandy–about the amazing ship. At first, they don’t believe him, but then the ship starts growing–big enough, this time, to hold four children–and proves to the others that it is indeed magical.
Soon, the children learn that not only can the ship travel through space, bringing them to their sick mother’s bedside, but that it can also travel through time! Peter, Sheila, Humphrey and Sandy end up in the Nile river valley, during the rule of the ancient Egyptians. Egyptian pharaohs, Robin Hood, Norse gods…it seems the magic and the possibilities are endless. Soon the children are traveling through time, meeting new friends, and evading new enemies. Because really, who wouldn’t want a flying ship that can travel through time?
Can the four Grant children keep hold of their magical ship? Will they find their way back from all their travels? Read The Ship that Flew and find out!
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From the condition of the book I read, I knew The Ship That Flew was old when I read it in fifth grade. At the time, I thought that it was written around the same time as Edward Eager’s books. I was quite surprised to learn that it was originally published in 1939, making it a precursor to Edward Eager, and closer in time to E. Nesbit’s stories like Five Children and It, or The Story of the Treasure Seekers.
Although I would have loved to see a sequel to The Ship That Flew (and searched for one many times as a young reader) I never found one. Although Hilda Lewis wrote many other books, they were all for adults. The Ship That Flew was her first published work and the only one written for children. Still, it remains her most famous.
If you like the time travel magical adventures of Edward Eager and E. Nesbit, or you enjoy reading about Viking mythology, you’ll enjoy The Ship That Flew. The language is British, and maybe a little old-fashioned, but it quickly grows on the reader. I would recommend it to readers in fourth grade through sixth grade, but it could go a bit older or younger. It would be a great family read-aloud for families with a wide age range of listeners.
As always, let us know what you think!