The People In Pineapple Place, by Anne Lindbergh (1982)
Ten year old August did not want to move with his mother from the countryside of Vermont to Georgetown in Washington, D.C. He did not want his parents to get divorced, and his mother to work full time. And he does not want to wait for the college kid looking after him to get off the phone so as to take him outside.
So off he goes, sad and angry, into the streets, and finds a cobblestone alley called Pineapple Place, where six old house are home to a bunch of kids who seem like they could be new friends for him. But though the kids, especially April, do become his friends, it quickly becomes apparent that Pineapple Place is rather...unusual.
It is not a spoiler to explain why, because it comes up quite close to the beginning of the story, and is the whole basic point of the point.
Back in the 1930s, a Pineapple Place resident decided that Baltimore was not the best place to be, and started moving all six houses around the country. And although the residents can leave their homes and venture into the new places they visit, only one of them can be seen and heard by the locals. And none of them have aged a day since Pineapple Place started its hopping.
Strangely, August can see them all....and the last days of his summer vacation become a bit of a mad-hatter series of excursions around the city- playing with invisible kids leads to wacky situations. And this is fun to read about, although it's a tad stressful that August's mother thinks for much of the book that he's making it all up.
But the fact that the Pineapple Place folk don't age gradually started casting a pall of horror over it all...especially when April's mother talks of how she had hoped to go back to college, and not spend her days pie-making (which is now her fate for eternity....). It reminded me very much of Tuck Everlasting, but without the clear acknowledgement on the author's part that immortality is a bitter fate. Especially when you can't even interact with new people anymore because of being invisible.
However, the invisibility is alleviated somewhat by the fact that Pineapple Place revisits the 1930s on a regular basis to allow for grocery shopping, as the residents can be seen in their time of origin. At one point, they take August with him, and he gets to sight see in the past. This is the part that makes it time travel.
The book must be read with enough grains of salt to kill a thousand slugs. Why, for instance, must they scrounge around in trash cans for bits and bobs to use in the present when they are regularly going back to the 1930s for groceries? How are they paying for their groceries? Why are they putting up with the dictator of Pineapple Place who started moving them around in the first place? It really makes little sense. I am very keen now to read the sequel, The Prisoner of Pineapple Place-- will they escape the madness?
Putting that issue aside, though, it's a fun and rather heart-warming story. The friendship between August and April is nice, the adventures fun, and the premise certainly is thought provoking. I imagine that the target audience of 8-10 year olds will be a lot less bothered by it than me, and will probably find it truly magical.
(They will probably all have read Wonder, too, and so the name "August" will be like an old friend. I wonder if we will see an uptick in its popularity 15 years from now...).