The House with a Clock in Its Walls: Lewis Barnavelt, Book 1

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The House with a Clock in Its Walls: Lewis Barnavelt, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Ten-year-old raises the dead in creepy Gothic classic.

Parents say

age 9+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Frequent references to magicians and scholars of history, as well as foreign languages (Lewis, a former altar boy in 1948, says prayers in church Latin at scary moments) and biblical references. Lewis and his uncle play a magical game of re-enacting historic battles.

Positive Messages

Saving the world from being destroyed by a monster you've accidentally raised from the dead would be a good thing. Friendship, family, and courage help keep evil at bay.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Overweight, awkward, friendless, recently orphaned, Lewis makes some bad decisions, many for reasons readers will find all too relatable, like trying to be friends with someone who wants to ditch him. His uncle Jonathan and their friend Mrs. Zimmermann spend a lot of time calling each other insulting names in between doing magic and fighting evil.

Violence & Scariness

Playing a battle re-enactment game with his uncle, Lewis discovers he'd rather help the soldiers than shoot them. Lots of creepiness around cemeteries, graves, raising the dead, as well as a mysterious ticking in the walls of a house. Both good and evil characters practice witchcraft, the good ones to help people, the evil ones to destroy the world. Or so they hope. A bully threatens Lewis with broken bones, and a creepy adult threatens to cut his throat. His late parents threatened to send him to the Detention Home when he was bad -- which they didn't mean, but he didn't know that, and he's still scared.


Lewis calls another kid a "candle-head" and nearly gets a beating for it. Occasional references to poop.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The House with a Clock in Its Walls, originally published in 1973, is the first book in the multivolume Lewis Barnavelt series of creepy tales by the late John Bellairs. A movie adaptation is set for release September 21, 2018. The plot involves a fat, friendless kid who, in a desperate attempt to impress a kid in his class, swipes the books of his warlock uncle, and raises a dead person -- who, unluckily, is the former owner of his uncle's house, a villain bent on destroying the world. Witchcraft (as well as Ouija boards, Magic 8 Balls, etc.) pops up constantly, along with the sinister ticking of a clock throughout the house. The cartoonish darkness (enhanced by the dark cartoons of Edward Gorey) is balanced by a sort of homey sweetness and oddball humor as Lewis finds himself in a strange but loving family.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 9-year-old Written byNancydrew1925 August 28, 2018

My childhood fave!

I adored everything John Bellairs wrote as a kid. I even wrote him
a fan letter and received a signed postcard back! His stories can be a. but dark but in an... Continue reading
Kid, 10 years old November 30, 2020


This is a wonderful book! I, myself, don't like creepy horror, but this is one of my favorites! It's sometimes funny, but it also has a great chill ki... Continue reading
Kid, 10 years old September 22, 2018

Great book for older kids who are into mysteries or horror

I saw the preview for the movie, and my friend and I decided to read the book together and then go see the movie when it came out. We both really enjoyed the bo... Continue reading

What's the story?

THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS is the new home of 10-year-old Lewis Barnavelt, whose parents have just died in an accident. It's 1948, and the house belongs to his uncle Jonathan, a stranger to Lewis, who has been warned that the man smokes, drinks, and plays poker. As it turns out, Uncle Jonathan is also a warlock (a male witch/sorcerer). So was the house's original owner, who may have something to do with the mysterious ticking that never goes away. Lewis is starting to enjoy his new life and even thinks he's made a friend -- but when the new friend turns mean, Lewis is desperate to impress him, so he goes to the cemetery on Halloween to raise someone from the dead. What could possibly go wrong? 

Is it any good?

John Bellairs' tale of a 10-year-old orphan, his warlock uncle, and world-destroying villains back from the dead -- first in a long series -- has entertained and spooked readers since 1973. Edward Gorey's classic illustrations manage to be both creepy and endearing. There's more than a bit of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" as young Lewis Barnavelt gets in way over his head raising people from the dead, and a strong sense of loving (if really strange) family and friends to set things right.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the magic spells in The House with a Clock in Its Walls. How does the magic in this book compare with that in other stories you've read or seen in movies?  

  • Do you think you'll go see the movie of The House with a Clock in Its Walls when it comes out? What do you think might be better in the movie -- and what seems like it would be better in the book version?

  • Do you think that the story being set in 1948 is important? What might be different if it happened now?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love horror and magic stories

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