Seven superb books about time

Published on: 03 April 2024

Author Michelle Harrison recommends her favourite thrilling books about time. 

Time. Humans are obsessed with it. Whether it’s being on time, wishing it away (or that we had more of it), wishing we could change the past, or dreaming of the future, time is never far from our thoughts.

There are as many books about time as there are ways in which to write about it. From classic time-slip tales such as Tom’s Midnight Garden and Emma Carroll’s The Tale of Truthwater Lake, to Patience Agabi’s Leap Cycle series, in which children born on February 29th can magically travel through time, it seems time is something readers – and writers – never tire of.

More recently we’ve had Jacqueline Wilson’s The Other Edie Trimmer, The Clockwork Conspiracy by Sam Sedgman, and Time Travellers by Sufiya Ahmed. In addition to a smidge of time travel in A Pinch of Magic, my own addition is Twice Upon a Time, a murder mystery about twins born either side of midnight on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. The twins glimpse visions of the past and the future and can pause time momentarily – all very handy when it comes to crime solving.

Here I’ve put together my top time-related children’s books. They range from classic time travel to lost days, prophecies and predictions and, while they’re vastly different, all are among my absolute favourites.

Starfell: Willow Moss and the Lost Day by Dominique Valente

Willow Moss is the youngest in a family of witches, each with a special talent, though Willow is disappointed with hers: the magical ability to find lost things. Even her family agree it’s unexceptional until an entire day – last Tuesday, in fact – goes missing, with disastrous consequences. A wonderfully original and inventive concept, and I especially adored Oswin, Willow’s bad-tempered cat who insists he isn’t a cat, but a terrifying monster.

The Incredible Talking Machine by Jenni Spangler

It’s 1848 and 12-year-old Tig Rabbit works backstage at Manchester’s Theatre Royale. Tig knows every inch of the place, every secret passage and even Cold Annie, the resident ghost. But when the latest act, a mysterious Professor Faber, arrives with his ground-breaking talking machine, trouble is waiting in the wings – especially when the machine begins to make sinister predictions. Spangler cleverly weaves fiction around the real Joseph Faber and his obsession with Euphonia, the talking machine. My prediction? You’re in for a treat.

Time Travelling With a Hamster by Ross Welford

On his 12th birthday Al Chaudhury is given a letter from his late father. Inside are instructions for a secret mission: travel back in time to 1984 to save his dad’s life. Easier said than done, of course, for all tampering with the past has some effect on the present. With a time machine less reliable than a DeLorean and a bully worse than Biff, this is a fabulous homage to Back to the Future with additional high stakes and a hamster named Alan Shearer.

The Everafter by Amy Huntley (young adult)

Madison Stanton is dead, though she has no memory of what caused it. All she has for company are items she lost while she was alive, such as coins and hair slides. By touching an object, she is able to return to the moment she lost it; reliving and even changing the past. Along the way she learns what was most important about her life, and ultimately, how and why she died. A unique and thrilling murder mystery – I loved it.

Sisters of the Lost Marsh by Lucy Strange

Willa and her five sisters live in the shadow of their cruel, superstitious father. Obsessed with the curse of the six daughters, he follows it to the letter, hoping to escape its deadly prophecy. When the mysterious Full Moon Fayre arrives the sisters jump at the chance of fun, but a fortune teller foresees danger and urges Grace, the eldest, to ‘Run!’ The next morning Grace is gone. Can Willa uncover her sister’s fate? Rich with folklore, superstition and sublime writing, this is one of my favourite children’s books ever written.

Numbers by Rachel Ward (young adult)

Jem has a disturbing secret: ever since her mum’s death she’s been able to see the date someone will die just by looking at them. On a trip to the London Eye, Jem realises that everyone around them has today’s date – something awful is about to happen. Masterful and thought-provoking, it’s no surprise that Numbers won and was shortlisted for a multitude of awards.

Clockwork by Philip Pullman

As the strapline says, once you’ve wound some things up nothing can stop them…

This is an eerie little book about a clockmaker’s apprentice and a storyteller, and what happens when the fictional world bleeds into reality, bringing with it a terrifying, murderous clockwork figure. Strange, gothic and satisfying.

Twice Upon a Time by Michelle Harrison is out now.

Topics: Features


Bookbuzz is a reading programme from BookTrust that aims to help schools inspire a love of reading in 11 to 13-year-olds. Participating schools give their students the opportunity to choose their own book to take home and keep from a list of 16 titles.

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