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A Circle in Time

by Peggy Dymond Leavey

Trenton, Ontario, is now a small sleepy town in eastern Ontario with an air force base. For a short period between 1917 and 1934 it supported a silent film industry, which turned out government films and some feature movies. Trenton librarian Peggy Leavey described this period in her 1989 non-fiction book The Movie Years. She has used some of her earlier research to provide the frame for her second children’s novel, a time travel story describing the making of No Sunrise in the Trenches, a silent movie about Canadian soldiers in the First World War.

When 12-year-old Wren Ferris (named after a grandmother in the Women’s Royal Naval Service) visits an abandoned film studio whose contents are being auctioned off before demolition, she catches a glimpse of a girl from the 1920s in an old mirror in the dressing room. Wren is repeatedly transported back to the time of the making of the war film, a film in which her grandparents played the part of extras. The mirror girl, privileged daughter of a famous English film director, becomes Wren’s entrée into the production. Back in her own time period, Wren interviews her grandfather and other local residents who were part of the production, and eventually solves the mystery of the lonely elderly woman who also has a connection to the studio and the long-ago film. All ends happily, with a preservation committee, a film museum, and reconciliation. Wren providently uses her experiences to write an award-winning project on local history for school.

Time travel as a plot device can be used to explore many literary themes, from alternative history, speculative physics, and parallel universes to sociology and politics. It is also frequently used as a simple construct to make historical fiction accessible (or palatable) for readers lacking a historical context. This book follows the latter path. Wren changes nothing in the past, and her friendship with the director’s daughter simply provides information to mend bridges in the present.

The book is short and very simply written. Wren is pre-teen – but the tone is much younger – so the market is probably the eight- to 10-year-old readers who enjoy Kit Pearson’s wartime novels (although this work lacks the emotional and reflective pull of Pearson’s books). Despite a few descriptions of Trenton teenagers running around in the mud with bayonets, the all-girl cast will make the book less appealing to most boys. The events are all disclaimed as fictional, but interested readers should try to find the author’s historical work to fill in actual details of Trenton’s film history.