Three preteens and their teacher find themselves trapped in the Blitz of WWII in a time-travel novel that's not quite long enough to do its puzzles justice.
Sophie, Marina and Quigs, English schoolchildren in 2002, explore an abandoned air-raid shelter with Mr. Schmidt, ignoring the cryptic warnings of a crazy old coocoo who calls himself Mr. Martin. They're suddenly transported to 1940 London, which, at that time, you'll remember, was being heavily bombed by the Germans. Mr. Schmidt's German name and accent land them in the spotlight with certain Londoners they encounter, putting them all at risk. Posing as war orphans, the kids meet and take shelter with kindly Esther Quigley who, it soon becomes apparent, is Quigs's great-grandmother. Sophie and Marina are desperate to get back to the future, but Quigs, whose parents are cold and unfriendly, becomes devoted to Esther and wants to stay put. The girls and Mr. Schmidt soon face serious accusations of espionage and must scramble to return to 2002, leaving behind a substantially changed past. A rushed conclusion, unresolved mysteries (What was the deal with kooky Mr. Martin, who also makes an appearance in 1940? How did the altered past change the future?) and thinly developed characters weaken what began as a promising fantasy travel through time.
An appealing story for a preteen audience and a film-worthy concept, but The Secret Shelter on the whole remains thin despite its vast narrative ambitions.