Monday, May 12, 2014

Book talk: The 13 Clocks by James Thurber

[You'll begin this booktalk by showing the bleak picture of the castle, shown in some editions on the front pastedown endpaper.]

Would you want to live here?
Would you like to live in this castle? [Wait for responses.] Why not? Right, it's creepy. It's cold, gloomy, dark, lonely, and time has stopped there. Not a fun place to live. The only thing I like about this castle is that it has a hidden door which leads to a secret stairway which opens in on a room called the oak room. But it's really, really dark in there, and by "there," I mean everywhere in the castle. Even creepier, you sometimes hear laughter in the dark. It's this evil creature called the Todal. I'll tell you more about him in a minute.

The Duke is the creepy seated man.
The Duke is what's wrong with this castle. He's an evil, whiny, vicious, lying man with cold hands and a cold heart. He has been cruel to animals, and cruel to people, as well. His niece, Saralinda, is beautiful but kind of spaced out. I can't tell you why. The Duke stopped time and all the clocks in the castle are stuck on ten to five. It's called being stuck in Then. It's always Then, and never Now. That must be incredibly boring and kind of sad.

There are other characters you'll meet, but I did promise to tell you about the Todal. He looks like a blob of glup; he smells of old, unopened rooms; and he makes a sound like rabbits screaming. The Todal is waiting for the Duke to fail.

When the castle gets a human visitor -- his name is Xingu -- we find out he has several secrets about him, and he seems kind and good. But can he bring about the Duke's downfall? Or, even worse, the Todal's?

The 13 Clocks by James Thurber. 124 pages. 1950/reprint: The New York Review Children's Collection. Booktalk to intermediate grades, middle school.

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