Discussion Guide for the Novels of Matthew J. Kirby
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8
About this book
About this book
About this book
Each of these books has an intriguing mystery at the heart of the plot and centers on young protagonists who are faced with enormous odds. Based on actual events and historic times, but with a twist that teases the imagination and encourages critical thinking, these stories will inspire curious students to do research and detective work.
This guide meets Common Core State Standards.
The Clockwork Three
About the Book
Giuseppe, a street musician, desperately wants to escape his cruel master and return to his home country. Frederick, an apprentice clockmaker, is haunted by his past and blinded by his ambitions for the future. Hannah, a maid at a grand hotel and the only breadwinner for her destitute family, longs to locate a treasure rumored to exist in the hotel.
When Giuseppe finds a strange green violin that plays sweet music, he seems a step closer to realizing his dream. Frederick works secretly on a clockwork man, a device he hopes will gain him independence and respect. Hannah becomes attached to a mysterious and wealthy guest at the hotel who may hold the key to her future.
As the lives of these three children begin to intersect through a series of events and coincidences, they must learn to trust each other as well as themselves. Each has something to offer in pursuit of their separate dreams.
- Look up the meanings of these words that you will encounter in the story: padrone, automaton, busker, journeyman, golem. (RL.4)
- Research information about Albertus Magnus, a scholar and inventor from the 13th century. (RI.3)
- Look up La Traviata, an opera that will play a role in the story. (RL.9)
- Look up images of automatons online and in reference books. How many dierent images can you find? Compare them to the clockwork man you read about in the book. (RL.7)
- Why do Giuseppe and the other boys stay with Stephano? Why don’t they run away from his cruel treatment? (RL.3)
- What makes Giuseppe think the green violin will be his ticket to freedom and a chance to return to his homeland? What do you think is the secret of the green violin? (RL.1)
- Why does Frederick keep his clockwork man a secret from Master Branch? Why is it so dicult for Frederick to trust anyone? Why does the author say of Frederick, “Sharing his memories felt like handing over a sharp knife. A knife that others might handle carelessly”? (RL.1)
- Why do you think Madame Pomeroy asks Hannah to be her personal assistant? When she ‘reads’ the cards in their first meeting, why does Hannah become so upset? Consider Madame Pomeroy’s statement, “You will meet some who can help you if you trust and help them.” What does she know about Hannah’s future? (RL.3)
- When Master Branch takes Frederick to the Guild Hall he says to him, “We mortals storm heaven itself in our folly.” What is he trying to tell Frederick? (RL.1)
- Why does Madame Pomeroy call Yakov her “golem”? What do you think is the story behind Madame Pomeroy and the mystery that seems to surround her past? (RL.4, 3)
- Why is it so important to Hannah to find the rumored treasure? What does it represent to her? (RL.1)
- When Madame Pomeroy takes Hannah and Frederick to the opera, what does the story of La Traviata mean to Hannah? What does it mean to Frederick? How does that evening change them both? (RL.5)
- When Hannah says the opera is very romantic but it’s also very sad, Madame Pomeroy replies, “e two feelings are frequent conspirators.” What does she mean? (RL.1)
- Compare the experiences of Giuseppe as a busker, Frederick in the textile mill, and Hannah working in the hotel. Do some research on the history of young children working at dicult jobs and compare what you learn with the lives of characters in the story. (RL.2, 9)
- Why does Hannah steal Madame Pomeroy’s necklace? Why does Walter betray her when she asks for his help? (RL.3)
- There are adults in the lives of all three children who are kind and caring, but there are also adults who are mean and hurtful. How do Giuseppe, Hannah, and Frederick learn to trust those who can help them? (RL.3, 6)
- Why does Giuseppe say to the squirrel in McCauley Park, “You’re a good mother”? Discuss the mother figures for each of the main characters—how do they each relate to their real mothers, and how do they learn to accept “mothering” from others? (RL.3, 5)
- Discuss the history of the city and the park as Pullman relates it to Giuseppe. Why is it important to know the history of the area and how does it help the characters understand where they live? What do you think is the meaning of the inscription on the grave of Phineas Stroop: “McCauley held the key to his happiness”? (RL.2)
- What is the meaning of the title, The Clockwork Three? Discuss the interconnection among the lives of the three main characters and how they become important to each other by helping each other. How does this change each of them? (RL.2, 3)
Suggestions for Further Reading
The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke (Scholastic, 2002)
A disparate band of homeless children in Venice is organized by a boy who calls himself “The Thief Lord” and claims to steal from wealthy homes.
Dear America: Hear My Sorrow: The Diary of Angela Denoto, A Shirtwaist Worker, New York City, 1909 by Deborah Hopkinson (Scholastic, 2004)
A young Italian immigrant girl, who works in a shirtwaist factory, finds herself drawn into the burgeoning labor movement.
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (Knopf, 1995)
Lyra must learn who to trust and who she must fear in a strange parallel world that is mysteriously connected to our own.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (Scholastic, 2007)
An orphaned clock keeper, Hugo lives within the walls of a Paris train station, trusting no one and secretly working on a mysterious automaton until he learns that other people are important to him.
While The Clockwork Three is not strictly a historical novel, it is based on the conditions in American cities in the late 19th century when there was great disparity between rich and poor.
Immigrant Children by Russell Freedman (Pun, 1995)
Freedman relates the harsh personal histories of actual immigrant children in America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Kids at Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor by Russell Freedman (Clarion, 1994)
This stunning photo essay chronicles the conditions of young working children in the early 20th century.
Shutting Out the Sky: Life in the Tenements of New York, 1880-1924 by Deborah Hopkinson (Orchard Books/Scholastic, 2003)
Keen portraits of immigrants’ lives in New York’s Lower East Side, lled with rst-person accounts and historical photographs.
The Little Slaves of the Harp: Italian Child Street Musicians in Nineteenth-Century Paris, London, and New York by John E. Zucchi (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1998)
This is the scholarly study from which the author of The Clockwork Three first learned about the plight of children like Giuseppe.
Learn about the history of street performers and their rights.
See images of the cards Madame Pomeroy used in the reading she did for Hannah.
Learn more about the medieval scholar Albertus Magnus.
Visit this site at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia to see a real working clockwork man.
Learn more about La Traviata, the opera Hannah and Frederick attend with Madame Pomeroy.
About the Book
Solveig, her older sister, Asa, and her younger brother, Harald—the children of a king of a northern country—have been sent to a fortress in a frozen fjord to safeguard them during their father’s war with a rival chieftain. Only the most trusted of his servants and soldiers have been sent with them, but over the winter months it becomes clear that someone in their midst is a traitor.
Solveig must learn to believe in herself and her emerging skills as a “skald,” or storyteller, while she is also faced with the difficult task of determining who in their small community might betray them—the handsome head of their guard, the frightening “berserker” warriors, the storyteller, their longtime servants, or a stranger lurking just beyond the fortress walls.
- Research the setting for this book by learning how a fjord is formed, including specific features of fjords in Scandinavia. Find pictures of a typical fjord to keep in mind while reading this book. (RI.7)
- Look up the meaning of these words from Norse culture: thrall, knarr, drekar, steading, berserker, skald, haugbui. (RI.4)
- Find stories about the gods of Norse mythology— Odin, or, Loki, and the monster Fenrir. These stories provide rich cultural background for reading Icefall. (RL.9)
- Why is the story told from Solveig’s point of view? How does the author help the reader understand Solveig’s hopes and fears? (RL.6)
- Compare the statement, “I am only Solveig” (p. 3) with the last line in the book, “I am Solveig.” What are the most important events and relationships that help Solveig accept her own power during the winter at the fjord? (RL.3)
- What does the arrival of the berserkers mean to Per? To Solveig and her siblings? To Bera, Ole, and Raudi? Why are the berserkers called Odin’s men? What is the difference between them and other warriors? (RL.1)
- Discuss Alric’s comment to Hake: “Can your sword grant immortality? Because my voice can” (p. 19). Which of them is more important to the king? Which is more important to the children? (RL.2)
- Why does Alric tell Solveig that she would be a good skald? What are the two things he tells her that are required to be a skald? What does he see in her that she doesn’t see in herself? How does he help Solveig build her condence and understand her power? (RL.3)
- What is the importance of Solveig’s memories and thoughts at the beginnings of the early chapters? Why does the author discontinue those passages after chapter 15? Discuss the last line of those early chapter openers: “…when I look into my betrayer’s face, I will see someone I thought I knew. And I will still love them” (p. 199). Is this true at the end of the book? (RL.5, 6)
- Why is Solveig so upset when Hilda is killed? Does she run away because of losing her goat or because of her disappointment in Per’s response to the killing? Why does she feel betrayed by Per? (RL.3)
- Discuss the dream that Solveig has in the cave when she is hiding from the others. Why is the dream so important to her? Which parts of the dream actually do foretell later events? (RL.2, 3)
- Recount the story that Alric tells to change the mood after Solveig returns from the cave. How does the story affect each of the listeners that night? How does Alric weave recent events into the age-old tale? What does Solveig learn from that evening? (RL.1, 5)
- When Solveig asks Alric if his stories are true, he says, “The truth of something you do is very dierent from the truth of something you know” (p. 64). What does he mean? (RL.2)
- Why does Hake capture the raven to give to Solveig? How does this gift change their relationship and Solveig’s feelings about the berserker? What is the importance of the name she gives to the raven? (RL.5, 4)
- Discuss the relationship between Solveig and Raudi. How has their friendship changed since coming to the fjord? (RL.1, 3)
- How many ways do the stories told by Alric and/or by Solveig aect the listeners? How does Alric’s story about Solveig’s father help her to better understand the king? What does he mean by “the beast inside”? Discuss Solveig’s comment that fear is “something to be mastered, not denied” (p. 194). (RL.2, 3)
- Discuss the meaning of Solveig’s comment that, “Suspicion is a dierent kind of poison. A potent toxin of whispers and air. We’re all infected, and it will be our end” (p. 198). How does her speech relieve the tension? (RL.5)
- Who is the traitor in the steading? Which of the characters is most responsible for the fortress being raided by Gunnlaug? What clues does the author give you as the story unfolds? (RL.3)
- Discuss the concept of courage as it appears in this story. Which characters exhibit courage through strength, through cunning, and through wisdom? Have you changed your own concept of what courage means by the end of the story? (RL.1, 2, 3)
Suggestions for Further Reading
Hakon of Rogen’s Saga by Erik Haugaard (University of Minnesota Press, 2013)
Hakon must battle his traitorous uncle to reclaim his birthright after his chieftain father is murdered. A classic tale reissued.
The Storytelling Princess by Rafe Martin (Putnam, 2001)
A strong-willed princess is shipwrecked and cast ashore in a strange kingdom where she must use her wits to win a prize.
Infinity Ring Book 2: Divide and Conquer by Carrie Ryan (Scholastic, 2012)
Three time-travelers race through time and space to save the human race. In this episode they find themselves in the age of the Vikings.
Viking It and Liking It (A Time Warp Trio book) by Jon Scieszka (Viking, 2002)
A light-hearted romp for young time travelers in the year A.D. 1000.
The Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland (Pantheon, 1981)
The full range of Norse mythology springs to life in this collection of thirty-one tales of strength, anger, and heroic deeds.
Norse Mythology: A Guide to Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs by John Lindow (Oxford University Press, 2002)
This scholarly approach discusses the relationship of the stories to the history and landscape of Scandinavia as well as retelling the tales themselves.
Favorite Norse Myths by Mary Pope Osborne (Scholastic, 2000)
A vigorous retelling of fourteen energetic myths of Norse gods and goddesses, their trickster Loki, and their constant quarrels with the frost-giants.
Vikings: Raiders and Explorers by Aileen Weintraub (Children’s Press, 2005)
While most histories emphasize the warrior aspect of Viking culture, they were also farmers, settlers, and fishermen who later were absorbed into the culture of lands they conquered.
Visit the website of the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo.
Discover five places in Norway that celebrate Viking history.
Learn about life for young people in Viking times.
The Lost Kingdom
About the Book
Billy Bartram is thrilled to travel with his father, botanist John Bartram, and a secret society of British colonial philosophers and scientists as they explore the North American wilderness in a massive flying ship. On a secret mission to find the lost kingdom of the Welsh prince Madoc, they hope to enlist help from descendants of Madoc’s countrymen in the coming war with the French.
But the journey faces many dangers; in addition to a party of French soldiers following their progress, a monstrous bear-wolf tracks them, and a traitor lurks in their midst. For Billy, the greatest challenge is his growing need to separate from his father’s prejudice toward the native population and to become his own person.
- Search for information about Prince Madoc. What evidence can you find that supports the claim that he actually established a settlement in America? (RI.1)
- Research the aeroship design of Francesco Lana de Terzi. Study the descriptions and artistic renditions of this design to help you understand the airship described in the story. (RI.3, 7)
- Look up the meanings of these words before reading: Leyden jar, compass, barometer, gyroscope, Philosopher’s stone, Incognitum, bear-wolf. Learn historical facts about the characters in The Lost Kingdom: John Bartram, William Bartram, Benjamin Franklin, Cadwallader Colden, Jane Colden, George Croghan, George Washington, Paul Marin, Madame Montour, Andrew Montour. Compare what you learn with the characters in the book. (RI.3, 4)
- Why does John Bartram decide to take Billy on the trip with him? What convinces Ben Franklin that Billy should be part of the expedition? Why does Ben Franklin not accompany them? (RL.3)
- Describe Billy’s first sight of the aeroship. What part does each member of the expedition play in the operation of the ship and its mission? (RL.3)
- How does Billy feel when he discovers Jane hiding as a stowaway? Why did Jane’s father not approve of her coming on the journey? Why does Billy keep her secret? (RL.5)
- Compare John Bartram’s feelings about slavery to his feelings about the Native Americans. Why is Billy ashamed of his father when they visit Aughwick? (RL.2)
- Why does Andrew choose to accompany the expedition? How does George Croghan feel about Andrew’s choice? (RL.5)
- Mr. Godfrey tells Billy that everyone on the expedition “has their own reasons for being there” (p. 103). What reason can you identify for each of the members? Are they all honest about their true reasons for wanting to make the journey? (RL.1, 3)
- Discuss Andrew’s question, “How would it be to not belong anywhere? To always feel like an outsider?” (p. 155). Why does John Bartram continue to mistrust Andrew, even after he saves his life? Why are the others so quick to accuse Andrew of being a traitor? (RL.6)
- Both George Croghan and George Washington are interested in the aeroship, but for different reasons. How does each of them see the ship being useful, and how do those uses differ from the original mission? (RL.5)
- Why does Mr. Kinnersley risk the entire expedition for his lightning experiment? Discuss Mr. Faries’ comment that “each of us is devoted to a subject of philosophy that obsesses the mind…Mr. Kinnersley is hardly alone in that and I find it difficult to condemn him for it” (p. 217). (RL.3)
- Describe the dierences between Billy and his father. How do these differences affect the way they each react to events on the journey? Why does John not believe Billy when he is sure that Phineas is the traitor leaving messages for the French? What convinces Billy that he should stand up to his father? (RL.6)
- Discuss the difference between the Indians’ use of the land and the plans of settlers, as stated by John Bartram. Discuss Billy’s question, “Why is a field better than a forest? Why is our use of the land better than theirs?” (pp. 253-255). What is the meaning of Billy’s dream? (RL.4, 6)
- Why are the philosophers disappointed when they find the lost kingdom? How is it different from their expectations? Compare their interactions with the Indians they encounter to Madoc’s experiences. What does Madoc mean when he talks about the cost of living forever? (RL.3)
- Why does Billy say they should protect the Welsh settlement against the French soldiers? How do the “peaceful” philosophers nd ways to take a stand against the armed soldiers? (RL.5)
- Compare the relationship of Billy and his father to Jane and her father. Compare them both to the relationship Andrew had with his mother. How are they similar and how are they dierent? (RL.1, 3)
- Describe the ways in which Billy grows as a character during the story. What are his feelings when he faces the bear-wolf at the end? Why does Madoc call him a man? (RL.3)
- Discuss the meaning of the saying, “To err is human, to forgive, divine” as it applies to the characters in this story. (RL.2, 3)
Suggestions for Further Reading
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation, Vol. I: The Pox Party by M. T. Anderson (Candlewick, 2006)
A young African prince is held captive in 18th century Boston by a group of radical philosophers. Although he and his mother are treated kindly, he slowly becomes aware that they are considered property and escapes to find his own fortune. Continued in Vol. II: The Kingdom of the Waves.
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1975)
One of the finest books for young readers of the 20th century, this story explores the concept of immortality and why it may not be desirable.
The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757 by James Fenimore Cooper (Atheneum, 2013)
A classic story of the tense relations among the British, French, and Native Americans in the mid-18th century, this volume is part of Cooper’s series of Leatherstocking Tales.
Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison by Lois Lenski (HarperCollins, 1995)
Based on a true story, this novel gives a vivid account of life among Native Americans in colonial times.
Dear America: Standing in the Light: The Captive Diary of Catherine Carey Logan, Delaware Valley, Pennsylvania, 1763 by Mary Pope Osborne
A Quaker girl is taken captive by members of the Delaware Tribe.
The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare (Houghton Mifflin, 1983)
This Newbery Honor book recounts a boy’s experiences with Native Americans in the colonial Maine wilderness.
Ben Franklin’s Almanac: Being a True Account of the Good Gentleman’s Life by Candace Fleming (Atheneum, 2003)
A visual treat packed with information, this biography is modeled on Franklin’s own Poor Richard’s Almanack, and illuminates his career in Colonial America.
The Amazing Life of Benjamin Franklin by James Cross Giblin (Scholastic, 2006)
Highlighting the diculties as well as the remarkable accomplishments of Franklin’s life, this book presents a balanced account of the great man.
Struggle for a Continent: The French and Indian Wars: 1689-1763 by Betsy Maestro (HarperCollins, 2000)
Clearly delineates the 70-year struggle between the English and the French along with their native allies for supremacy in North America.
The Flower Hunter: William Bartram, America’s First Naturalist by Deborah Kogan Ray (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004)
A journal format, profusely illustrated, follows the real-life Billy Bartram from age eight through his apprenticeship and partnership with his father, listing his many accomplishments.
Discover the legend of Prince Madoc on the BBC website.
The legend of Madoc landing in Alabama is detailed here.
Learn about Francesco Lana de Terzi, father of aviation.
Find background information on the French & Indian War.
Visit the original garden of John and William Bartram.
Learn about Benjamin Franklin and his many talents.
Comparing the Novels
- Compare the settings of these three books: the city, the frozen fjord, and the colonial wilderness. How does the backdrop of each story affect the lives of the characters and the unfolding of the plot? How do the surroundings and habitat of each book provide a metaphor for themes in the story? (RL.2)
- In each of these novels young people are faced with challenging situations and difficult decisions. Compare the problems that face the young protagonists in each story and discuss the similarities and dierences in the ways they find solutions to each of their dilemmas. (RL.3)
- Discuss the role of stories and legends in each of these books. How do the characters relate to the stories that are part of their culture and how do the stories help them to understand their world and solve their problems? (RL.1, 9)
About the Author
A fresh, new voice in literature for young people, Matthew J. Kirby brings a unique and startling perspective to each of his books. Matthew has been writing since he was young, and as a college student he was the first runner-up for the Isaac Asimov Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing. He earned advanced degrees in child psychology and worked as a school psychologist for many years. He writes some short stories, but his passion is for middle grade and young adult novels. Visit his website at www.matthewjkirby.com.
Common Core State Standards Referenced in This Guide
See after each question the specific Standards to which the question correlates.
Reading Standards for Literature
Key Ideas and Details
RL.1. Demonstrate understanding of key details in a text; refer to details and examples in the text; cite textual evidence that supports an analysis of what the text says as well as inferences drawn from the text.
RL.2. Determine the theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; analyze the development of the themes or central ideas over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text.
RL.3. Describe characters, settings, or events in a story, drawing on specific details in the text; analyze how characters interact, develop, change, and respond to events in the story; analyze how dierent elements interact; e.g., how setting shapes plot and character.
Craft and Structure
RL. 4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including metaphors and similes and words that allude to myth; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning or tone.
RL.5. Refer to or explain the parts or structure of a story and how they contribute to the whole; analyze how the author’s choices concerning specific parts of a story contribute to its overall structure and meaning.
RL.6. Understand and compare the different points of view from which stories are narrated and how point of view influences how events are described; analyze how and why the author develops point of view.
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
RL.7. Explain how illustrations contribute to what is conveyed in a story; compare a written story to its audio, filmed, or staged version; analyze multiple interpretations of a story.
RL.9. Compare and contrast the treatment of a topic in different stories; compare a fictional portrayal to a historical account; analyze how an author draws from and transforms source material in a particular work.
Reading Standards for Informational Text (Building background for these stories through pre-reading research)
Key Ideas and Details
RI.1. Demonstrate understanding of key details in a text; refer to details and examples in the text; cite textual evidence that supports an analysis of what the text says as well as inferences drawn from the text.
RI.3. Describe the relationships between individuals, ideas, events, or concepts in a text; analyze how ideas influence individuals or events, or how individuals inuence ideas or events; analyze how the author unfolds an analysis or series of ideas or events.
Craft and Structure
RI. 4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text; determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words or phrases; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning or tone.
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
RI.7. Explain how illustrations, maps, photographs, diagrams, graphs, and charts contribute to the understanding of a text; draw on information in different media or formats; compare a text to an audio, video, or multimedia portrayal of the topic.
Discussion guide prepared by Connie Rockman, Youth Literature Consultant, adjunct professor of children’s and young adult literature, and Editor of the 8th, 9th, and 10th books in the H. W. Wilson Junior Authors and Illustrators series.