Twins Jenna and Caleb are left to play and explore at Uncle Al’s house while their mom and aunt work. Jenna and Caleb would have liked to see their uncle, but he is away “ranging” — as a geology enthusiast, he often travels to examine various natural structures, especially those formed thousands of years ago. The kids take the opportunity to snoop around Al’s office, which is full of unusual treasures, including a journal, map, and compass that claim to hold the secret to traveling back in time.
Jenna, Caleb, and their visiting friend Ari don’t really believe in time travel, but decide to follow the journal’s instructions for fun, finding themselves thrown fifteen thousand years back in time to an era of giant bears, wooly mammoths, and the largest floods to ever sweep the Earth. The journal’s instructions help them survive and understand and appreciate the wonder of the time they’re in, but they are far from safe. And how will they get home?
Terra Tempo, vol. 1: Ice Age Cataclysm! is definitely intended to educate as well as entertain, but it doesn’t beat readers over the head with facts. The characters may not be all that thoroughly developed, but they are likable kids on a wild adventure — and who isn’t excited about time travel and saber-toothed cats? Moreover, the book’s treatment of geologic events — most of all the breaking of the Great Ice Dam — makes them just as exciting as the kids’ encounters with Ice Age animals. The graphic medium is used to great effect in showing the scale of the wall of ice and the flooding that results when it collapses. The book matches the visuals with dramatic facts (the dam’s collapse created a waterfall, “twice as high and three times as wide as Niagara Falls”) and makes the events important to characters and to the story.
The full-color pages are drawn in a clear, simple style that gives this book a slower pace and broader focus than that of many graphic novels. Much attention is paid to scenic backdrops and less to characters’ expressions. There are few action lines and what action scenes do happen are brief and quickly resolved. The real focus is on the wonder of the experience Jenna, Caleb, and Ari have in the Ice Age, not on the danger or on any personal revelations it may have inspired. Detail is low in places where one might be used to seeing more: the faces, for example, are the opposite of manga-style faces, with eyes that are little more than dots or squiggles in most panels. Faces are expressive, but not terribly nuanced. Characters are, however, easily distinct enough to tell apart, even when drawn small against huge geologic formations.
The characters are fairly static and their personalities not especially differentiated. Jenna is good with the magic map, Caleb has the camping skills, and Ari is the Fountain of Facts. Outside of these areas, they mostly speak and behave in similar ways. Their dialog is realistic enough for kids their age, if you’re willing to buy in to how much Ice Age trivia Ari happens to have picked up from his paleontologist parents. There is a little humor, too, mostly in the running joke of Ari falling off the bird they ride (usually, this happens when the bird is safely on or near the ground, but starts to look like clever foreshadowing when he loses his grip as they soar over a gigantic waterfall).
The book’s end implies the possibility of sequels. Uncle Al seems proud and pleased that the kids discovered his time travel equipment and that they might continue his “ranging” explorations. In the meantime, fans may be interested to learn that Terra Tempo, vol. 1: Ice Age Cataclysm! has an interactive website that offers more information about the characters and the places they visit.