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Read Aloud Wednesdays: Book Talk on The 13 Clocks by James Thurber

Leah Courtney
{This post may contain affiliate links.}

Welcome to this week's Read Aloud Wednesday. This week will feature our first monthly book talk. I'll be discussing The 13 Clocks, a book we've recently enjoyed as a read aloud. I'll give you a synopsis of the book and then I'll give you some suggested discussion questions that you can discuss with your family when you read the book. There are also two free printables linked for you to use as you discuss the book.

I recently 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. I read it aloud to my 9 and 10 year old, and we discussed the story using many of the questions I'm going to go through here.

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.

The discussion method I use comes, mainly, from a course I took from Adam Andrews from Center for Lit. I loved his course on Teaching the Classics. And in all my years of teacher education- and I have a Master's Degree in reading- I had never heard literature discussion explained so well or so practically. I loved the story chart he uses and the Socratic questions that he brought up to discuss the literature we are reading. The site- Center for Lit- has some great free downloads, including the story chart I'll refer to.

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.

I've made two forms that can be used a reading response for any book but that fit well with The 13 Clocks.

The Character Description Worksheet allows the reader to analyze one specific character in the story. The 13 Clocks has so many great, rich characters.
The Figurative Language sheet asks the reader to choose one passage from the story that is rich in figurative language and to draw what that description helps them to picture. The 13 Clocks is rich in figurative language, so this is an excellent sheet to use to think through some of that.

And now it's your turn. Link up with any great read aloud posts you have. And let me know in the comments if you've read The 13 Clocks and what your family thought.

My Joy-Filled Life

Leah Courtney / Author & Editor

Leah Courtney is a homeschooling mom of four. She’s graduated two teens- one who’s a legal adult now! And she’s still homeschooling two middle schoolers. She loves all things book related, and in her- very rare- free time you can find her listening to audiobooks and coloring.


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