The House With a Clock In Its Walls

Written by: John Bellairs

Illustrated by: Edward Gorey

For parents of independent readers, we provide a set of questions that should give you insight into what your child is reading and help you engage him/her in meaningful conversations about literature. We recommend using the questions provided here as a springboard for deeper conversation about The House With a Clock in Its Walls and what your child takes away from the book. Enjoy!



Recently orphaned Lewis is sent to live with his uncle Jonathan. Things are going well in the new town. Lewis has a friend who is helping him learn to play baseball, his room has its very own fireplace, there is even a secret passage in his uncle’s house, and, best of all, Uncle Jonathan is a wizard! In an attempt to impress his friend, Lewis dabbles in magic and raises someone from the dead on Halloween. He also discovers that Uncle Jonathan is searching for a clock that can constantly be heard ticking in the walls of the house and ever since Halloween it has been ticking louder and faster. When stranger things begin happening, Lewis wonders whether the person he raised from the dead may have some connection to the clock and he must help his uncle solve the mystery before something bad happens. A Gothic mystery novel for upper elementary.


Pre-Reading Activities

KWL Chart

Create a K-W-L Chart and have your child fill in the first two columns with information that s/he knows and wants to find out about the story. S/he can fill in the last column, "What I Learned", once s/he has finished the story.

What I Know

After reading the summary of the story, let your child think about what s/he already knows about the story. Consider questions like "What other mystery/horror stories has s/he read? What are some common themes between these stories or stories in this genre? Who are the main characters in this story? What does s/he know about these characters? Where is this story set?"

What I Want to Know

Include questions that your child might have about the plot, characters and setting. Think about including questions like, "Why is there a clock in the walls of a house? How will this clock destroy the world? Will Lewis and his gang be able to stop it?"

Discussion Questions

  1. Why must Lewis go live with his uncle Jonathan? How does he feel about this change?
  2. This story is set in New Zebedee, Michigan in 1948. How was life different back then compared to now, from what you could tell in the story? How was life the same?
  3. What magical power did the clock in the wall have? Why was it imperative that they find it?
  4. How does Lewis accidentally let Selenna out of her tomb? What was he actually trying to do? Have you ever felt the need to prove yourself to someone else? What advice would you have given Lewis in that situation?
  5. How would you describe uncle Jonathan's character? What was his life like before Lewis came to live with him?
  6. This story is full of magical, mystical elements from the mirror in the Barnavelt house that depicts a jungle and glass windows to Lewis's deceased Aunt Mattie showing up at their door. Which unusual element in the story did you find the most surprising or interesting? Why did you pick that one?
  7. Where do they find the clock? How are they able to stop Selenna's evil plan?

Extending the Story

Got any spooky thoughts and ideas that you think would make for a great story? Maybe something particularly scary has happened to you in the past? Whatever it may be, use these ideas to write your own short horror story! It can be about ghosts, wizards, monsters, etc. It's entirely up to you, the spookier the better! 

You can also try out some of these cool Halloween-themed science projects from Kitchen Pantry Scientist.