Arcade and the Triple T Token (Coin Slot Chronicles #1) by Rashad Jennings, illustrated by Alan Brown.
Zonderkidz, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2019.
MG Christian fantasy, 254 pages.
Lexile: not leveled
AR Level: 3.7 (worth 7.0) .
NOTE: Despite the low AR level, there is enough peril and plot complexity that I wouldn’t generally suggest this for children below third grade.
Eleven year old Arcade Livingston just moved from Virginia to New York City and is struggling to fit in and avoid the class bullies when a woman in the library gives him a mysterious token – that lets him time travel! But his teenaged sister wants him to stop, or at least take her along.
For several years I’ve been avidly seeking diverse fantasy books, but surprisingly had never heard of this series before. After reading, it was clear why – it’s Christian. (I could have figured this out sooner if I’d been paying attention; Zondervan is an explicitly Christian publisher although some of their titles appeal to a broader demographic.)
Although Narnia is probably what most people think of when they consider Christian fantasy, there’s more available. For children especially time travel stories seem to be popular. But I’ve never reviewed a Christian fantasy on this blog before because most tend to be very white.
Returning to this specific title, their family moved so Mr. Livingston can pursue a career as a set designer. It’s a big adjustment for the kids to both move to a big city and go from having a stay-at-home parent to being more personally responsible for things like getting themselves to school. Arcade handles the transition by finding the closest library and spending all his time there.
The big concern of sixth grade is the career fair, where every student has to pick a career and create a presentation which will be viewed by the rest of the school. This part seemed realistic to schools that I or my children have experience with although the topic (science, countries, historical figures, states) and grade level (between 4th and 12th) vary.
Their projects are individual, but the teacher has them working in groups which seemed odd and contrived to me. While this definitely both ups the drama and helps push Arcade’s friendships along, I didn’t believe an otherwise competent teacher would structure the assignment that way.
Arcade gets the token in the very beginning, but the magic is a pretty slow build. Jennings takes time to build the relationships and explain the altered family structure. Mrs. Livingston is an adjunct professor so her schedule has to work around her classes and office hours. I loved that this story had a two parent family with an academic mom. While there is definitely a place for stories about single moms and struggling families, I am so sick of seeing Black characters typecast into those roles. Having a mom who teaches college classes is a far more accurate representation.
Their parents’ busy professional lives, combined with Arcade’s developmentally normal desire to deal with things without his parents, easily explain why he and Zoe end up mostly dealing with the token on their own. Both parents are still a loving presence in their lives, with enough family dinners, morning notes, and check ins to remind us they care.
The magic of the token is not explained. Arcade is able to use it to explore a variety of careers but doesn’t have any choice about when the doors appear. We don’t get many answers about the magic, nor why it can be dangerous sometimes and who’s after the token. The way Arcade eventually handles the “bullies” and the whole school career fair is resolved, but the magic aspect ends on a cliff hanger.
The relationship between Zoe and Arcade rang so true. They are constantly ragging on each other, especially when their parents aren’t around, but they also are very close and ultimately always have each other’s backs.
Part of what was so appealing about this book was that Arcade loves reading and learning and isn’t afraid of his passion (although he does sometimes hide it, especially when meeting new kids). So many moments, like waking up confused with a bloody nose because he fell asleep reading in bed, are things that have happened to me and still do today.
Whether it’s Arcade and his books, the dinosaur/geography love in Dragons in a Bag, young botanist videographer Zoe in Wonderland, tech lover HD in Sauerkraut, or even the science appeal of Zoey and Sassafras, I am so glad that my kids will be growing up with a more balanced literature than I had.
This wasn’t my favorite fantasy book, but it was solid enough and I like having a variety of recommendations. Parents and teachers in religious settings will appreciate the moral lessons. It’s less likely to be useful in a public library or school setting unless religious books are frequently requested. Our family is Christian, so we’ll probably continue the series.