Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Module 9: The Edison Mystery : Qwerty Stevens, Back in Time


Robert "Qwerty" Stevens isn't looking for anything particular when he digs in his New Jersey backyard.  He certainly isn't looking for a mysterious box with the name Edison on it.  Yet that is exactly what Qwerty finds.  Along with his sister Barbara, Qwerty discovers that the mysterious machine is a time machine, and together they go back in time to meet Thomas Edison and help him invent a working light bulb.


I have to say that The Edison Mystery : Qwerty Stevens, Back in Time really was not all that enjoyable to me.  The writing is a bit wooden and clunky, and it often seems as though David Gutman (the author) is trying to seem cool to younger readers by throwing in product references and explaining to readers how the Internet works (the book was written in 2001).  Additionally, Gutman could  have used a better editor, because the story seems unsure of itself -- is this a story about a villain trying to get the box away from kids, is it a story about a machine that takes you anywhere, any time, is it a machine that can speak to the dead?  We meet one of Qwerty's best friends, but then we never really see him again and instead Barbara goes along on the adventure, where she (at sixteen) starts a romantic relationship with one of Edison's much older scientist fellows.  Finally, the reason I dislike the book the most is the fact that the author, in the author notes in the back, admits that he changed facts about Edison to suit the plot.  I think it's reasonable to ask a fiction author for YA to stick to using the facts he's got and to weave his plot around those, rather than unraveling facts to weave something else.  The plot has so much more potential -- the protagonists could have gone anywhere, in any time!  And yet we only ever get lists of their desires (which for Qwerty include a cheerleader locker room...), and a Back To The Future-esque ending wherein we learn that by teaching basketball to one of the scientists, they made a park be in place of a road where their father was killed in a car accident, thus changing the future so that dad is suddenly alive.  Ultimately, it seems that Gutman bit off more than he could chew -- the book would have benefited from some refining. The "mystery" of the box is solved in the first few chapters, making the story much less a mystery and much more an adventure, as far as genre is concerned.  Still, reviewers didn't seem to dislike it, so maybe this is just me...


"While digging in his backyard, 13-year-old Robert Stevens, known as Qwerty for the mistake he made in third-grade keyboarding class, unearths a large mysterious wooden box that has “Thomas Edison” inscribed on it. This is not a total shock to Qwerty: He lives in West Orange, New Jersey, in a community bordering the mansion that Edison once lived in. Qwerty and his best friend Joey lock themselves in Qwerty's room and carefully proceed to break the lock on the box. They discover that Qwerty has dug up Edison's time machine, which includes a handwritten note that reads “The world is not ready for this. I'm not sure it ever will be. October, 1879.” Torn between turning the machine in to authorities, selling it for millions, or taking it to school to show their friends, the boys decide to find out how the time machine works first. Convinced that the world IS ready for the time machine, Qwerty hooks up the wires from the machine to his computer and is transported into Edison's workshop. The author cleverly mixes Edison's story with fiction, bringing the characters into the 21st century. In addition to the text, Gutman includes a “Truth and Lies” section in the back of the book. Younger children will enjoy this book as a great read-aloud. Recommended" (Book Report, 2002).

"Gr 4-8 --After a fight with his mother, 13-year-old Qwerty Stevens retreats to the backyard to dig off his bad mood. He unearths what he thinks is an early Thomas Edison phonograph, a not-completely crazy thought as Qwerty lives in what was once the inventor's backyard. To his surprise, though, his find turns out to be a device that sends Qwerty first to Spain, then back in time to Edison's lab, where the inventor is hard at work on the lightbulb. Through a series of mishaps, Qwerty's older sister, the only other person who knows how to work the machine, ends up with him in 1879. The two teens realize they are stuck in the past unless the famous inventor can get them home. The story is chock-full of interesting tidbits about Edison's life, opinions, and staff, and provides a good glimpse of life in the 19th century. In one scenario, Qwerty escapes outside to "shoot some hoops" with Jimmy Naismith and helps "invent" basketball. Gutman includes photos and patent drawings to bring more detail to Edison's work, as well as a subplot involving a man who has a get-rich-quick scheme and follows Qwerty back in time. Overall, this is an entertaining novel that should draw fans of time-travel stories, Gutman's other books, historical fiction, and light fiction. Pass it on to readers who are looking for something good and funny" (School Library Journal, 2001).


This book could be included in any number of genres: historical fiction, adventure, or mystery.  Have a "historical inventor" speaker day at the library (Edison, Franklin, etc.), along with similar titles, as a book event for young readers.  (The author has other back-in-time-with-famous-people books too, such as Back in Time with Benjamin Franklin: A Qwerty Stevens Adventure)


Green, D. G. (2002). Qwerty Stevens Back in Time (Book). Book Report, 20(4), 60.

Jones, T. E., Toth, L., Charnizon, M., Grabarek, D., Larkins, J., & Prolman, L. (2001). The Edison Mystery (Book Review). School Library Journal, 47(8), 182.

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