Review of the Day: The Clock Without a Face by Gus Twintig
The Clock Without a Face: A Gus Twintig Mystery
By Gus Twintig (with some help from Eli Horowitz, Mac Barnett, Scott Teplin, and Adam Rex)
Ages 10 and up
On shelves May 1st.
Treasure hunts. Wouldn’t it be marvelous to be a part of one? I think the popularity of books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or The 39 Clues or even The Gollywhopper Games really has a lot to do with our own private wish fulfillment. Wouldn’t you love to be a part of a real world treasure hunt? One where you could follow clues and end up with a marvelous prize of your very own? Enter the world’s weirdest book. I’m sure there are other words for it, but the term “weird” sticks out prominently in my mind. So too do the words “wacky”, “hypnotic”, “awe-inspiring”, and “potentially hazardous to your health”. I do not kid. I kid a tiny bit. But the fact of the matter is that if you or a child or you AND a child ever wanted to be a part of a real world treasure hunt, the time is now. For my part, all that I care is that there’s a new book out there with teeny tiny pictures for me to stare glazed-eye at for long periods of time. To stare and stare and stare.
Meet Gus Twintig. Gus is just your average everyday detective sidekick. So when the great Roy Dodge says that there’s a mystery to be solved, Gus is more than eager to tag along. They find themselves at 23 Glyph Street where a Mr. Bevel Ternky has been robbed. His marvelous Emerald Khroniker, a clock containing twelve emerald studded numbers, has been stolen. Or rather, the numbers have been stolen. The clock itself is hunky dory. So it is that Gus and Roy go down, floor by floor, to interview each of the residents and question them for what they know. It appears that Mr. Ternky was not the only person robbed, but finding the culprit will take some pretty snazzy brains. Now here’s the real puzzle. Twelve actual emerald studded numbers HAVE been buried around the country by the authors of this book. Find the clues hidden in the pictures, and you could be one of the lucky few to dig up the numbers for your very own self.
Gather round me, children, and hear the tale I tell. Once upon a time there was a children’s book by the name of Masquerade written by a man named Kit Williams. Consisting of some sixteen paintings, the goal of the book was to solve the riddle hidden in the pictures so as to find the real world buried treasure. In that particular case, the prize was a golden rabbit. Of course, the whole thing broke down in a huge scandal and everyone was mightily disappointed, but the idea stuck. Folks starting calling these kinds of book “armchair treasure hunts” and in the early 80s there was a whole spate of them. Then along comes the internet and we haven’t seen anything similar since. This makes the challenge of Barnett and company all the more intriguing. Not only do they have to keep this potentially chaotic hunt in line, but they have to keep their rapidly increasing fans updated. Can’t have folks spending the next few decades digging up their neighbors’ lawns. And how easy are the answers? Will the numbers be found immediately? After a year? After ten? The book is also ostensibly for kids, but since children haven’t the freedom to drive around the country with their shovels, odds are a lot of adults will be winning each of the numbers. Pity that, but there’s nothing to be done.
I had a devil of a time figuring out how to classify this book within my own personal collection because design-wise it poses a pickle. Imagine a board book roughly the size of a pop-up book, but where the base is a rectangle and the top half a triangle. You’d think it unwieldy, and indeed I contemplated how weird it would be to wrangle it off and onto the subway. However, once in the privacy of my own home it was the ideal size for staring at. Still, I wonder if many libraries will be purchasing it. And if they do, where will it go? The fiction section? It could well be the first chapter book board book ere seen. Will they even buy it or will they consider it kitsch? Personally, I hope they do buy it. Kitsch or not, it’s a significant story brought out by a host of clever folks. That should count for something, I would think.
Speaking of which, we need a name for these young hipster Turks who are slowly turning the world of juvenile literature into something attuned to their own subversive p.o.v.s. Nothing suggests itself. Hipster Kidster Lit, perhaps. Barnett and Rex (who does the occasional portrait in the story) are obviously two of the ringleaders. And this Eli Horowitz fellow may be the same, but it’s Scott Teplin I’m interested in. Teplin is the meticulous ink wielder behind the book’s tiny, perfect drawings. Teplin’s art is marvelous. You get a huge amount of enjoyment just looking at a new page, and even more enjoyment going back and reexamining old ones. Young eyes will certainly be better attuned to peeking for hours at a time at the meticulous tiny illustrations that contain the clues. Then they themselves can sit there wondering, “What is the significance of the pink donuts? Is the roof on the cover of the book important? Is the back?” Teplin is primarily an artist with few books for youngsters under his belt. Hopefully this will mark the start of a new career for the fellow.
And talk about a learning opportunity. Get the right kind of kid interested and suddenly they’ll be scrambling to grab every reference tome in sight in the hopes of solving the mystery. For example, in the apartment of Dr. P.K. Quello helium is continually alluded to but the only way you’re going to know that is if you study up on your periodic table. On a second reading I bet a kid could also figure out how you are told which cities the numbers reside in but it will require even more research to tell which one is which. It’s a game that ends up being a kind of a strange teaching tool, almost by accident.
When I was a kid my Clock Without a Face was the bizarre book Maze by Christopher Manson. No treasure involved, though apparently there was a prize of $10,000 for anyone who could solve it. The problem with Maze though was that in spite of its picture book-like format, it didn’t feel like it was for kids. In contrast, what I really came to like and respect about The Clock Without a Face is that it has no difficulty defining its own audience. The writing and the pictures are hugely kid-friendly. Maybe a child wouldn’t have the wherewithal to solve the puzzles, but there’s always a chance. And where there’s a chance there will be kid fans. I know I’ll be handing my copy to the kids in the bookclub I run with the hope that they find a way to solve it themselves. Because even if they don’t solve it, they’re going to have a heckuva great time obsessing over its wackiness. Fun fun fun.
On shelves May 1st.
Copy: Sent by author for review.
- Should you wish to keep up with the developments in this game, you’ve plenty of ways to do so. There’s a website for the book. That’s the first place I’d start. Be sure to look at the residents because their apartments (at least the tiny corners you can see) are animated nicely. That is if the thing hasn’t disappeared.
- You may also follow Gus Twintig’s Twitter feed for updates and info as it happens.
- Illustrator Scott Teplin has a blog that provides plenty of nifty details of its own. I particularly liked this test drawing for the book.
Filed under: Reviews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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