Mysteries get reluctant readers enthusiastic about reading. Use these lessons and resources to help students explore the Mystery Genre.
Five minutes before she died, Grace Cahill, the rich and powerful matriarch of the Cahill family, changed her will. She left her heirs with an intriguing choice: accept a million dollars, or accept one Clue — the first of 39 Clues that could lead to riches and power beyond belief.
Amy and Dan Cahill, two young orphans adopted by Grace’s daughter, are the last of the heirs to make the choice. When they decide to embark on the quest for the 39 Clues, they immediately become the targets of their competing relatives — Ian and Natalie Kabra; the Holt family; Alistair Oh; Irina Spasky; and Jonah Wizard.
Following a hunch, Amy and Dan venture into the basement library of Grace’s mansion where they find an important lead. However, within minutes, the mansion explodes into flames, forcing Amy and Dan to flee for their lives. They survive to gather the necessary resources for their quest — money plus the company of their young au pair, Nellie. Their first destination is Philadelphia to investigate the life of Benjamin Franklin, a famous Cahill ancestor. Clues they find there send them off to Paris to track down the trail of the mystery.
While fending off their rapacious relatives, Amy and Dan finally find the maze of bones they are seeking — in the underground catacombs of Paris. Another lead sets them off on the next stage of their quest — Vienna, Austria.
About the Author
Rick Riordan is the author of The 39 Clues Book 1: The Maze of Bones as well as the architect of the story for the series. He is also the author of The New York Times #1 bestselling series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, the Kane Chronicles, and Heroes of Olympus.
Riordan taught English and social studies for many years and drew on his teaching experience to construct his plots. As a teacher, he shared his passion for mythology with his students. His own son’s learning challenges inspired him to create the Percy Jackson series about a twelve-year-old dyslexic boy who discovers he is the modern-day son of a Greek god. The overwhelming success of the series led Mr. Riordan to become a full-time writer. Riordan lives with his wife and two sons, Haley and Patrick. They have one dog, a Golden Labrador mix, and two black cats.
Teaching the Book
The Maze of Bones is the first book in the gripping adventure series, The 39 Clues. The series follows the exploits of Amy and Dan Cahill as they travel the world, encounter 500 years of history, and unravel a treacherous family mystery. This book provides an opportunity to discuss the genre of mystery, teach the skill of making inferences, and develop vocabulary related to suspense. Activities will engage students in magic box math, using Google Maps, and secret code writing.
Theme Focus: Mystery
Comprehension Focus: Make Inferences
Language Focus: Words of Mystery & Suspense
Get Ready to Read
Which would you choose: one million dollars or the chance to gain incredible power and wealth? The characters in The Maze of Bones have to make this choice early in the book. Encourage students to discuss what their choice would be — and why. Ask them how much danger and risk they would be willing to face in order to gain incredible power and wealth.
Meet the Cahills
Engage students and develop their background knowledge with an introduction to members of the Cahill family who are competing to find the 39 Clues. Visit The 39 Clues website and click on the “Review agent dossiers” link to read biographical information about each character.
Words of Mystery and Suspense
Explain to student that a mystery writer uses words that add to a book’s mood of danger and suspense. Ask students to watch for the following words as they read the book. Encourage them to look for clues in the text to figure out the meaning of unfamiliar words and have them check the dictionary definitions. Suggest that they record other words of mystery and suspense as they read.
Use Resource #1: Vocabulary Cards and distribute copies to students.
- perilous (p. 1)
- talisman (p. 2)
- imposter (p. 5)
- destiny (p. 18)
- pseudonym (p. 52)
- rendezvous (p. 85)
- conspiracy (p. 129)
- lethal (p. 166)
Words to Know
Words of Mystery and Suspense
Ask students to refer to the definitions they wrote on their vocabulary cards. Then ask the following questions to evaluate their understanding of the words’ meanings.
- How was Amy and Dan’s visit to the Franklin Institute perilous?
- When Grace Cahill was still alive, what did she predict that Amy’s destiny would be?
- Name someone in the book whom you suspect is an imposter.
- What rendezvous did Amy and Dan have in Philadelphia?
- What lethal situations did Amy and Dan face in Paris?
Ask students to pair/share with a partner, asking more questions based on other vocabulary words. Encourage them to give evidence from the book to support their answers.
As You Read
Reading the Book
Read aloud the brief first chapter of the book, asking students to follow along. Then prompt them to ask questions about what you just read; for example: What children is Grace talking about? Why had she had so many close calls with death? Can William McIntyre be trusted? What does the new will say?
Assign students to read The Maze of Bones independently. Remind them to keep the Big Question in mind as they read.
Big Question: Critical Thinking
Ask students to think about this question as they read and be ready to answer it when they’ve finished the book. Write the question on chart paper or have students record it in their reading journals. Do Dan and Amy Cahill have what it takes to find the 39 Clues?
Amy and Dan Cahill rely on their ability to make inferences in order to find Clues, solve mysteries, and decide whom they can — and can’t — trust. Explain to students that they can make inferences while they read by figuring out things that the author gives hints about, but doesn’t directly state.
Use the graphic organizer on Resource #2: Make Inferences to model for students how to make inferences and provide supporting evidence. Project the page on a whiteboard or pass out copies to students.
Let’s look at an inference that Dan Cahill made in the first part of the book. He and Amy were in Grace’s library, wondering if Grace had other books. Dan looked up at a crest that had letters on it that looked more worn than the others. Dan put together this clue with his previous knowledge that hiding places frequently have secret openings. He climbed up, touched the letters on the crest, and a secret door swung open. His inference led them to the next lead. You can do the same when you read a mystery.
Have students fill in the rest of the organizer with inferences based on text that gives hints but doesn’t directly state something. Discuss students’ answers and ask them to give evidence to support them.
After You Read
Questions to Discuss
Lead students in a discussion of these focus story elements.
Who do you think is the biggest threat to Amy and Dan in their search for the 39 Clues? Who do you think has the best chance of solving the mystery if it isn’t Amy and Dan? (Answers will vary.)
2. Make Inferences
Why do you think that Dan almost died to get his backpack out of the subway? What do you think happened to the backpack? Do you think Dan will ever get it back? (Answers will vary.)
3. Words of Mystery and Suspense
Reread the description of the Catacombs on pages 170–171. What words help build a mood of mystery and suspense? (Sample answers: skills, moldering, eerie, sockets, creaked.)
Questions to Share
Encourage students to share their responses with a partner or small group.
1. Text to Self
Would you still make the same choice you did before reading about taking the money or trying for incredible wealth and power? Explain why you’ve changed your mind or stayed with your original choice.
2. Text to World
Think about famous people who are from your area or state. Which one of them do you think might be a Cahill? Where in your city or state might a Clue be hidden?
3. Text to Text
Compare The 39 Clues to other mystery series you have read. How do other Amy and Dan Cahill compare with other young detectives or protagonists? How are the settings and action different?
Content Area Connections
Benjamin Franklin was a writer, a scientist, a statesman, and an inventor. He also liked to play with numbers and created magic boxes, or magic squares. Challenge students to solve the magic square on page 173, filling in the missing numbers on the skulls.
Invisible ink was used extensively during the Revolutionary War period, including by Benjamin Franklin. Students can make their own invisible ink from lemon juice or a baking soda solution. A heat source, such as an electric iron, will reveal the invisible ink on paper.
Google Map the Adventure
Amy and Dan Cahill visit several different sites in both Philadelphia and Paris. Ask students to track their adventures in either place on a map of the city. Help students locate street maps of Philadelphia or Paris on the Internet; if possible, use Google Maps and a whiteboard or smartboard to find major sites like Independence Hall or SacrÃÂ©-Coeur.
Design Your Own Crest
Ask students to study the Cahill family crest pictured on page 45 and reread the text that explains each of the symbols. Then challenge them to create their own crest, using initials and symbols to represent important characteristics about themselves. Encourage partners to share their crests and try to guess what the symbols stand for.
Most of the story is told through Amy and Dan Cahill’s viewpoint. However, some chapters are told through the viewpoint of other characters such as Irina Spasky or the Holts. Challenge students to “get inside the head” of a character in the book other than Amy and Dan; for example: Alistair Oh, Irina Spasky, or one of the Kabras. Ask students to choose a particular scene in the story and think about how another character would act, talk, and think. Have students title their writing with the setting, time, and character’s name. After they write, ask students to read parts of their scene aloud and see if other students can guess whose viewpoint is featured.
Don't Forget the Big Question
Give each student an opportunity to answer the big question. Encourage students to support their answers with details and evidence from the text. Remind them that there is no one right answer. Do Dan and Amy Cahill have what it takes to find the 39 Clues?
Send a Secret Message
Assign students to write a message to Amy and Dan to warn them about William McIntyre. Then challenge them to create a code to write their message in to make it more secret and difficult to intercept. Make copies of the Big Activity and distribute to students. Read the directions and answer questions to clarify the activity. Encourage students to exchange messages with a partner and to try to break each other’s code.
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