Wednesday, May 22, 2024

The Little Time Traveler


Last fall, my adorable grandson, halfway between two and three years, was finally tall enough to look at the family pictures arranged on a table. He identified his parents immediately. Then we talked about the rest of the people in the photographs.

He kept returning to a picture of a man holding the hand of a little boy, an animated child wearing saddle shoes, shorts, and a polo shirt, waving or pointing into the distance as they stood on an airport tarmac.

“That boy,” my grandson said, “can he come over to my house?”

I explained that the man in the picture was his grandfather, and the little boy was his uncle. A long time ago, I said, when we were all much younger.

“But,” my grandson persisted, “can he come over to play?”

The idea struck me as beautiful and poignant: that the boy in the photograph could have stood still for 36 years while the boy in the present could close his eyes and jump, just like Mary Poppins stepped into a sidewalk chalk painting.

Or the two of them could travel through time, meet somewhere in the middle, and understand each other as only two 2-1/2 year old boys can.


“Look at that airplane!”


“It’s as high as the sky!”


Eventually the little boy who lives in the present wandered off. All I could think of was The Diamond in the Window by Jane Langton, my favorite childhood book.

The book was published in 1962 and I found it on a shelf in the children’s room of the Mount Vernon, N.Y., Public Library several years later. I withdrew it so often that my parents finally gave it to me as a birthday present.

The story takes place in Concord, Mass., where a sister and brother, Eleanor and Edward Hall, live in a Victorian house with their aunt and uncle. The children’s parents died many years earlier.

One day, standing in a field across the street from their house, the children notice a small round window in an attic room where they have never been. They race home and up the stairs, find a drop-down ladder in a turret, and scramble up the rungs. Langton writes:

            “Oh—” said Edward. His voice caught.

It wasn’t like Edward to be surprised by anything. He was matter-of-fact and took things as they were. Eleanor felt herself breathing hard. She twitched his trouser leg. “What, what?” she said.

As Edward makes room for his sister, their heads rise into the hidden chamber. Looking around the dim room, their eyes slowly adjust to the light. They see a dresser, a table, the window, a mirror . . .


And what was that on either side of the window? Eleanor’s heart bounded into her throat.

It was two narrow beds, and the covers were turned neatly down.



Demanding answers, the children sit with their Aunt Lily and page through an old photograph album. Her voice trembles as she tells the story of the “lost children,” her youngest siblings, a girl and boy named Nora and Ned.


Illustration by Erik Blegvad
The Diamond in the Window by Jane Langton

In the old photographs, Ned and Nora bear a striking resemblance to Edward and Eleanor. How did they disappear?

It turns out that an Indian prince, Krishna, once traveled to Concord to study with their uncle, Fred, a world-renowned scholar of Transcendentalism.

Krishna and Lily fell in love. Meanwhile, Krishna invented dream games in the form of a treasure hunt to entertain Nora and Ned, who slept in the attic room. But he had no idea that, over time, the dreams became quite dangerous with the interference of his evil uncle.  

One day, Ned and Nora disappeared. A worldwide search ensued. But the children never turned up, and then Krishna disappeared, too. The evil uncle had captured them.  



A few days after they learn the story, Eleanor and Edward vow to find the lost children. They move into the tower room and embark on the same magical--and dangerous--adventures as Nora and Ned. In an exciting climactic dream, they finally rescue the lost children and Prince Krishna. Exhausted and back in their beds, Eleanor and Edward fall fast asleep.

They awaken to insistent knocking at the front door. Peering through the glass, Aunt Lily opens it in shock. She calls Edward and Eleanor to come downstairs  and meet Prince Krishna and their “Aunt Nora” and “Uncle Ned.” Langton writes:


Why weren’t Ned and Nora children like themselves? But of course, they had been children when they were lost, and that was long ago. Of course they would have grown up, in all this time.

Even in magic and dreams, human beings grow up, although they may keep the heart and spirit of a child. I’m grateful to my grandson for returning me to the book I loved long ago, and for trying to open a little door in the mysterious universe.

The Little Time Traveler

  Last fall, my adorable grandson, halfway between two and three years, was finally tall enough to look at the family pictures arranged on a...