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The Time Detectives: time travel adventures in the English class

November 28, 2019 by Nóra Wünsch-Nagy

Go on an adventure with Liam and Rose, the young time detectives as they travel through space and time and explore different periods in the past and the future. First, read a bit about time travel in fiction, film and science. Then, get more information about our new series, The Time Detectives: find out what the stories are about, how they can help your language teaching, and what exactly is inside each book. Finally, read a short interview with Martyn Hobbs, the author of the series.

The Time Detectives
Liam and Rose, the Time Detectives. Illustration by Francesca Protopapa. © Helbling Languages

Time travel in fiction, film and science

Whether in fiction, film or science, the idea of time travel has fascinated us for centuries. Time remains one of the greatest puzzles to solve, and it has been a playground for fiction writers and film makers. Some of the most memorable and popular examples in classic examples were written in the 19th century: just think about The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (1895) or A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain (1889). And although A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens might not be the most scientific and typical time travel story, Scrooge visits his past and future, allowing us to imagine what it would be like to travel through our own past and future. Time travel is not only about personal discovery, but it is also a scientific and historical exploration, which might make the time traveller feel like they have special powers. They often go back to the past to solve puzzles or even change history - just think of a contemporary classic, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Famous films about time travel include Terminator (1984), Back to the Future (1985), Groundhog Day (1993),  Donnie Darko (2001), The Time Traveller's Wife (2009), Source Code (2011), Interstellar (2014), Doctor Strange (2016) and Arrival (2016). More recently, the TV series adaptation of the Outlander series (1992) by Diana Gabaldon has become a favourite for many, showing us how much we can learn about history through stories which take us to different times.

Of course time travel is also a scientific concern, physicists have long investigated the nature of time and compelling works like A Brief History of Time (1988) by Stephen Hawking or The Order of Time (2017) by Carlo Rovelli have become popular among non-scientists as well.

The Time Detectives

Three brand new titles in our Red Readers Fiction series are perfect reading for language learners who are fascinated by time travel, history or science. Not only do these stories engage students in reading, they also inspire them to find out more about the historical and cultural contexts of the times and places the two main characters, Liam and Rose, visit.

The three titles, all written by Martyn Hobbs and illustrated by Francesca Protopapa are:

The stories follow the adventures of Liam and Rose as they travel through time facing a series of dangers, in the hope of returning to their own lives in the present.

The books include:

  • a 2-page Guidebook setting the scene with information on the subject of the story;
  • Let’s Talk About spread focusing on CLIL-relevant topics;
  • a 2-page History Detectives spread exploring the historical context, drawing links to the present allowing readers to develop all-important critical thinking skills.

In the first story, Total Eclipse, Liam and Rose travel back into the 1400s and meet medieval knights. This will give you an opportunity to talk about knights and chivalry as well as women's rights through different ages, right up to the present day.

In the second story, Run, Liam, Run!, the young time detectives travel to the Mississippi in the 1800s and they experience the terrifying reality of slavery. This way your students can learn about slavery and the anti-slavery movement through the eyes of the main characters and think about forms of slavery today. 

In the third story, The Last Voyage, Liam and Rose find themselves on a spaceship in the future. They meet robots and highly developed artificial intelligence systems. This story gives your students the chance to explore the solar system, learn about the science of robotics, and think about ethical and social issues in connection with AI. 

All three readers come with Before Reading and After Reading vocabulary, grammar, speaking and writing development exercises as well as exam preparation activities. The readers are recorded in British English and all through the texts you will find discussion boxes which make your students reflect on the ideas presented in the story and use the newly read expressions in speaking. On e-zone, extra activities can be accessed using the code in the books. 

Interview with Martyn Hobbs

Martyn 2015 portrait
Martyn Hobbs

Helbling Readers Blog (HRB): What inspired you to write this new series?

I never need an excuse to write! But in this case, while I wanted to write a series of stories that were all connected, I also wanted to have variety, and write stories in different genres. Then I realised that time travel was the perfect vehicle. By sending Rose and Liam into the past and future, the stories could range from adventure to comedy, science fiction to mythology, and even, of course, to historical! They could be serious or scary, funny or sad. And because the stories are set in so many different times and places, it meant I had lots to think about and explore and discover. Beyond all that, I wanted to write the kind of stories that I enjoy reading – and that hopefully, other people would like, too!

HRB: Why do think time travel stories are so fascinating for all ages?

In time travel stories, we look at the past/future and the present at the same time. These stories show us our familiar world in a new light. It is filled with human beings and human activities – but we see them in a kind of distorting mirror. Some things are more or less the same, others are very different. And as we question what people did in the past, we inevitably think about how we live now. What are we getting right? What are we getting wrong? Have things got better… or are they worse?

HRB: Why did you call the series the Time Detectives?

At the beginning of every story, Liam and Rose arrive in an entirely new unknown situation. They have to discover where they are, when they are, who the other people are and what they want. And to find out the answers to these questions, they have to look for clues and evaluate them. And something I find fascinating is that readers, you and me, are in exactly the same situation whenever we start reading a new story and enter a writer’s created world. To understand what is happening, we have to ask and answer the same questions! By the way, if I start reading Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, then I’m instantly taken back to the eighteenth century, to The Admiral Benbow Inn, and introduced to pirates and Long John Silver. If that isn’t time travel, what is?

HRB: What are your favourite examples of time travel in literature?

A short story and a novel come immediately to mind A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury was one of the first science fiction stories I ever read and shows the impact the smallest of events can have on the future. A time travel company offers holidays in the past. A man chooses to go back to the age of the dinosaurs. But in the distant past he accidentally kills a butterfly. When he returns to his own time, he discovers frightening changes in  the world around him. The novel which I return to again and again is Orlando by Virginia Woolf. Born into the sixteenth century of Queen Elizabeth the First, Orlando lives through many changes over the following centuries, up until the stroke of midnight 11 October 1928, the precise moment when Virginia Woolf’s novel was published. And outside of literature, let’s not forget the ever-inventive TV series Doctor Who!

HRB: Which decade or year would you like to go back to in time?

It’s a summer afternoon in 1599. I’ve just crossed the crowded River Thames by boat to the south bank, and now I’m walking up to a big new octagonal building. Above it, a flag is flying which shows the god Atlas holding up the world. After paying a penny at the door, I’ll soon be standing inside with the bright blue sky overhead, looking up at the stage. Then the play Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare will begin. He might even be acting in it! And just as I have travelled through time and space to get here, so over the next few hours the play will transport me to… Where? When? A boy actor dressed as a woman and a sea captain will soon explain. \

Viola What country is this, friends?
Captain It is Illyria, madam.

When we read, when we watch films and plays, we are all time travellers!

HRB: Thank you for the interview, Martyn!

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