Reading one of Chris Heimerdinger’s Tennis Shoes adventures is a lot like reading one of Jan Brett’s picture books. There’s a great story that builds to an exciting climax in the main body of the book, but there’s a subtle and perhaps more satisfying story in the framework around the pages. This is particularly true in Tower of Thunder. Heimerdinger continues his action-packed story of a modern-day family gifted with the opportunity to travel back in time to Book of Mormon and Biblical times, but at the end of each chapter his chapter notes tell in a straight-forward manner his research into the era and events his characters encounter in his fiction tale. For those who aren’t into historical fiction the chapter notes alone are worth the price of the book.
The entire Tennis Shoes Adventure Series is based on the writer’s concept of time travel, an interesting device which allows people of one time period to drop in on events past or future. Heimerdinger makes no claim that the energy fields he uses to transport his characters through time really exist. They are merely a device he uses in a game of “what if.” In this case, what if people from our time period could drop in on the people and events surrounding the Tower of Babel?
Mary (a time traveler from the meridian of time), finds herself stranded in King Nimrod’s day with Rebecca and Joshua, children of Garth and Jenny who have been with the series from the beginning. Mary as the only adult feels responsible for the children. Added to that responsibility is a terrible sword forged in evil by an evil man in Book of Mormon times, Akish, a particularly evil Jaredite king. If that isn’t enough burden for Mary to shoulder, she and the children rescue the infant, Abram, from Nimrod’s soldiers and must flee to Salem to save themselves and the baby.
Harry and Steffanie Hawkins, brother and sister, go in search of the missing members of their family and end up in the same time period, but quickly become prisoners of Nimrod’s son. Their jousts with the prince carry them through a myriad of adventures from Harry’s quick sidetrip into a time period he’s visited before to the top of the incredible tower.
Most people tend to think of the Tower of Babel as a silly little Tower of Pisa sort of thing, devised by people who weren’t too bright if they believed in God on one hand and thought they could climb up to heaven and conquer Him on the other. Heimerdinger brings alive through solid research the immense magnitude of the structure and brings into focus a creditable theory of why a group of Noah’s descendants believed they could actually reach and conquer heaven.
It’s easy to take the various events of Genesis as separate stories without recognizing how much the time periods when these events occurred overlapped. According to Genesis people lived close to a thousand years with many generations from the time of Adam until several generations after Noah being alive at the same time. This gives a different perspective to events and loyalties which built and waned over hundreds of years to extreme righteousness or evil, creating a sharp contrast to the ties and loyalties of our generation where the expected life-span is little more than seventy years.
The Tennis Shoes Adventure Series is not the sort of series such as N.C. Allen, Gerald Lund, Ron Carter, or David Woolley have authored. Those series surround a specific event or time period and begin when that time or event took history’s center stage and have a specific ending point. Not so with Heimerdinger’s series. His adventures are more like those of the old Hardy Boys series-same core characters, but shifting settings and new adventures in each book. Though Heimerdinger writes for a more mature audience than the boys and girls who eagerly devoured the adventures of Joe and Frank for so many generations, his style attracts the same eager loyalty and delivers the same satisfying adventure where terrible things may happen, even to good people as in real life, but ultimately good triumphs over evil.
With the concept of time travel always comes the question of whether history might be changed by the interference of travelers from a later time period who already know what is going to happen. Heimerdinger is meticulously careful not to change real events. He inserts his characters into situations where details are vague or unknown in order to bring about the known result, he allows his characters to move around and through events contributing to, but not changing actual historical events, and he allows his characters to alter fictional events when that enhances his story.
One of Heimerdinger’s strongest points in Tower of Thunder is the concept that evil truly exists and that the only defense against evil is to trust in God rather than in personal strength. Time travel and high adventure may not sound like a story designed to build faith, but in fact, Heimerdinger does an exceptional job of using fiction to explain the need for obedience to God’s commands. He also builds on the ties of love and loyalty that unites and strengthens families. And of course he leaves his readers with a glimpse of his next adventure. In the very best tradition of continuing sagas, the author entices the reader just enough that when Tower of Thunder ends they all know he’s really saying, “Stay tuned, for the next exciting adventure of the Tennis Shoes gang.”