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Saturday, October 5, 2013

BiblioFile: The House with a Clock in its Walls: A Study Guide

We’ve heard a handful of stories about John’s work being used in the classroom, everything from projects based on the books being presented by students to teachings introducing historical topics based on some of the stories. In 1994, Thomas J. Palumbo wrote Integrating the Literature of John Bellairs in the Classroom, and John’s life and work were the subject of a master’s thesis in 2011. Back in 1992, someone put together an entire workbook based on one book.

The House with a Clock in its Walls: A Study Guide was put together by Janet Cassidy and edited by Joyce Friedland and Rikki Kessler. The book (more of a slim, stapled magazine stock) is an 8 ½ x 11 inch, 27-page-or-so paperback that was released by a group called Learning Links, Inc. as part of their Novel-Ties series. If you’re interested in such things, other books in the Novel-Ties series appear to be your standard American titles (Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, The Catcher in the Rye), some popular British titles (Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and some contemporary books such as The Hunger Games, Artemis Fowl, and Angela's Ashes. (There’s a bunch of ‘em – check it out yourself.)

Bellairs book collector Russ Bernard picked up a copy with a published date is 1998 (possibly a later printing). He reports that it "really looks like a general interest workbook with changes made to adapt it to the House with a Clock theme. The cover illustration might be more interesting if it were more than a rough draft of a drawing. I keep thinking the pendulum looks more like a spoon."

Chances are that if the book were titled The House with a Spoon Under the Floor then Mildred Jaeger would have appeared much earlier in the Barnavelt series. Maybe. That’s a bit of a stretch, I suppose.

So what’s inside? The contents of this booklet appear to be broken down by chapter with similar types of lessons found throughout – vocabulary, discussion questions, or writing and art activities. In chapter one the vocabulary lesson is to draw a line from one of the dozen words on the left (including doubloons, turret, and belfry) to its definition on the right (covered with glass, someone who doesn't belong or is unwelcome, and covered with glass). Hard-hitting questions are then asked:
What was unusual about the way Mrs. Zimmermann and Uncle Jonathan talked to each other? Do you think they liked or disliked each other?
As is commonly known, what was "unusual" was their thick Michigan accents that Lewis, just arriving from Wisconsin, was quite unfamiliar with.  Right.

Students are then asked to write a diary entry, pretending they were Lewis on his first night in New Zebedee. Reminds us of something Eustace Scrubbs or Dale Cooper and Diane would put together. Another activity is the chance to draw a picture of a clock with a fantastic design of your own invention, making “sure it could function as an instrument to tell time.” The first thing that pops into my mind is a dog with a clock in its belly. (Really. Draw up something of yours and submit it via our forum.)

Now we’re suddenly curious how a study guide of the Bellairsia blog would go over?
  • Discussion: a bobblehead figure of Hannah Duston was released by the New Hampshire Historical Society. What makes bobblehead figures popular? Write about which historical figure you’d like to see made into a bobblehead figurine.  Bellairsia archivist Lornten doesn't count.
  • Vocabulary: define these words as used once on the blog: slummed; crannaker; cheesemen; reciprocal.
  • Artwork: design your own Bellairs-related bookmark and tell why you chose that image over another.
We digress.

In short, this study guide looks to be something that would engage fans of John’s and invite them to spend a little more time in his realm, postulating on what the characters do and feel outside of what’s in the book.

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