Literature Discussion Guide for The 13 Clocks by James Thurber

Several years ago, I heard The 13 Clocks recommended as a read aloud book. I immediately went home and ordered a physical copy of the book from Amazon. The reason I was so intrigued was because of the book’s author. James Thurber is known as an adult author of humor and satire. I read many of his short stories when I was in middle school/high school because I had a brother in law who was a fan of his work and who owned several books of James Thurber essays. I had never envisioned him as the author of children’s literature, so I had to pick up The 13 Clocks. 

Literature discussion guide for the 13 Clocks

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I was taken with the book and read it aloud to my younger girls- then 9 and 10- and it provided some very good discussion. If you want to discuss this great read with your children, you can use the discussion questions below. Pick up my free packet of graphic organizers for reading (no email required) and use them as you discuss. The questions are arranged to go along with the plot chart included in the packet.

The book’s synopsis: There is an evil duke in the land who lives in a castle that is cold as ice with thirteen clocks that he has stopped. The only one living with him is his niece. Many times men come to the duke seeking her hand in marriage, but the duke always sets an impossible task and kills the man when he fails. Along comes a prince who is disguised as a roving minstrel. The prince is challenged by the task and, of course, sets out to win the hand of the niece. Along the way he is helped by the mysterious Golux. And things get pretty crazy as the prince sets out to do the impossible.

The 13 Clocks is filled with figurative language. Although it’s a short book-only 124 pages and many of those with pictures- it’s not an easy read. I’m not sure my girls would have “gotten” the book if they had read it independently. Reading it aloud allowed us to deconstruct the meanings of some of the more difficult passages, and we ended up really enjoying the book.
As I discussed this story with the girls, I followed the story chart and asked questions about each part. You can download the story chart and follow along with your discussion.
1. Where does the story take place?
2. Is the setting real or imaginary? How do you know?
3. What kind of atmosphere does the Duke’s castle have? How does it make you feel?
1. Who is the story about?
2. How would you describe each of the main characters?
3. Do you like the main character (s)? Why or why not?
4. Who is the protagonist (the good guy, the hero)? Who is the antagonist (the villain, the one in the way)?
1. What does the prince in the story want to do?
2. What is keeping him from doing it? (Define the type of conflict. Is the hero fighting against himself- man vs. himself- or natural forces- man vs. nature– or against God- man vs. God– or against another character- man vs. man)
3. Does what the prince wants change throughout the story?
Action in the story:
1. Why does the prince want what he wants?
2. How does he respond to the conflict that occurs?
3. How do the characters interact as the story progresses?

4. What is the big conflict at the climax of the story?
5. How is that big conflict resolved?
6. Were you happy with the resolution? Why or why not?
7. What does the prince learn from the story?
8. What does the duke learn from the story?

Notice that I didn’t put answers for the questions. Discussing literature this way is meant to develop critical thinking, not just comprehension. I don’t read every single book I have my kids read. And I don’t discuss in depth with them every book. But if I do want to discuss the book, I make sure that I read it or that we read it aloud. That way we can all participate in a discussion.
Literature discussion guide for the 13 Clocks

Let me know what you think about this unusual, but interesting book when you read it. And if you love using great literature with your kids, pick up my free ebook- The Ultimate Unit Study Book for Literature Lovers. It includes 45 unit studies based on great kids’ books.

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