Alfie Bloom and the Secret of Hexbridge Castle discussion guide

The Author: Gabrielle Kent

Gabrielle is from the North East of England. Her first job was in the video-games industry where she worked on games for PC, Playstation and XBox. She currently teaches computer games development at Teesside University where she runs the Animex festival of Animation and Computer Games and gets to meet all of her favourite game and animation creators.

Growing up, she spent several summers running wild on her granny's farm in Galway, pretending to be one of the Famous Five with her brothers and cousins. She has always loved exploring castles and in 2006 she visited Castle Coch in Wales. As she looked at a carving of The Fates over one of the fireplaces, an idea for a story crept into her head. When she got home she started typing the story of Alfie Bloom, the boy who inherited a castle.

Synopsis:

A fantasy adventure about 11 year old Alfie, who lives in a grotty basement flat with his father. Alfie is dreading the start of the Summer holidays as his father is always working.

When Alfie receives a letter inviting him to the offices of mysterious solicitor, Caspian Bone, he discovers he has inherited a castle his life changes completely.

And through mysterious circumstances surrounding his birth, he has also been entrusted as the caretaker of a centuries-old magic. Unfortunately for Alfie, dangerous forces also seek this powerful magic. With the help of his cousins Maddie and Robin, Artan the flying bearskin rug, and Ashford the mysterious Butler, Alfie must keep the magic safe from terrifying adversaries and make sure the secrets of Hexbridge Castle stay secret for ever…

Weblink:

Gabrielle Kent official website: http://gabriellekent.com/

Play the Alfie Bloom game at: http://www5.scholastic.co.uk/static/scb/alfie-bloom/game/AlfieRC1.html

Suggested Activities

Before Reading:

Use the children’s knowledge of stories such as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Harry Potter to discuss and identify the ingredients that make a great fantasy quest adventure.

Share the title of the story. What secrets do the children imagine that the castle might hold?

The prologue and chapter 1

Read this section aloud to the group. After reading discuss the mood that is created. How is suspense built in this passage? For instance you might draw attention to the contrast between silence and noise and the effect this creates.

Invite the children to pose any questions they have after reading the opening. Make a list to refer to later when you read further into the story. To begin you might need to make some suggestions e.g. Is there a wild animal on the prowl? What is sulphur? etc… When you have a list of questions review them with the children. Which are we likely to find answers to as we read the story? Which might we need to research in order to find an answer?

Ask the children to read chapter one independently and write their own questions after reading.

Share and compile a group list of questions to add to those that you posed after reading the prologue.

Briefly discuss the character of Alfie Bloom. What sort of hero do you think he will be?

In pairs ask the children to choose 3 words to describe him. Now working as a four share the words you have chosen. Justify your choices and select your final 3 words. Harvest ideas from the groups and add to a class list.

During Reading:

A Strange Invitation

What is Alfie feeling about the forthcoming summer holidays? Why does he feel this way? Are your thoughts similar or different to Alfie's?

What do you notice about the way the solicitor's letter is written? In what way is the tone different to writing a letter or an email to a friend? Are there any words that make the letter sound very formal?

Caspian Bone

Imagine being told you had inherited a castle. How might Alfie might expect his life to change?

What do you learn about Caspian Bone from this chapter? Can you visualise what he looks like. Draw a picture of him using clues from the description.

What is the special 'winged device' that Caspian owns? Use the internet to find an image of Leonardo da Vinci's flying machine to share with the children. How do you imagine Caspian came to own this machine?

 Vocabulary in context

There are several words used in this chapter which may not be familiar to the children but can be worked out from context. Use the opportunity to make this teaching point. Identify the target word and the read it in context.

For instance, pre-occupied  "He had been too pre-occupied to notice the class troublemakers.'

What do they think pre-occupied means?

Read the sentence with a gap. "He had been too -------- to notice the class troublemakers." What word could fit in the gap?

Highlight the structure of the word. Review the meaning of the prefix 'pre' and discuss where the children have seen r heard the word occupied. what does it mean.

Now look up a dictionary definition. Check that the definition fits the context.

Make the point that we can often work out the meaning of a word from the context and that dictionary definitions can help confirm which meaning we need.

Other words that can be worked out from the context in this chapter 'dallied', 'dwindled'

Arriving in Hexbridge

What happened to the three stonemasons in 1890? What clues can you find to suggest what happened to them?

Subject vocabulary

In this chapter we are introduced to a lot of words relating to castles. Find some pictures of medieval castles on the internet to exemplify the following terms:

  • Moat Tapestries
  • Drawbridge Battlements
  • Arched entrance Chandelier
  • Courtyard Stone fireplace
  • Leaded windows Plush velvet curtains
  • Gargoyle Four poster bed
  • Stone staircase Library with ladders that slid on rails
  • Galleries landing Cellar

 

The importance of names

How important are names in helping us know what a character is like?

What do you think of when you hear the names Murkle and Snitch?

What about the teacher Miss Reynard? Perhaps her name is a clue to a connection with a particular animal? What about Orion Hopcraft?

Even apparently simple names are carefully chosen, like Alfie and Robin

Place names are important too? Can you find out what Wyrmwald means? Wyrm + Wald = dragon forest. What about the name of the castle, Hexbridge?

 

Chapter 14 The Winter King and the Fates and chapter 15 Fire!

When Murkle and Snitch are described, what do you think is meant by, “they had smiled with their mouths but not their sharp little eyes.”?

What do you think has happened to Alfie's talisman? Are there any clues in this chapter that make you think this?

At the beginning of chapter 15, why does Alfie say, “I am starting to think I have just done another stupid thing”? What do you think will happen next?

Chapter 16 Beyond the Hall of Penitence

Reread the section where the children are being chased by Murkle and Snitch in the tunnel. How are suspense and surprise used in this section? If you were making a film of this scene how would you choose to do it?

Time Travel

Alfie was born in the castle when it was only 15 years old. By the time he goes to live in it it has been closed for over 100 years. Orin Hopcraft, a druid from the past, writes to Alfie revealing the truth about his history.

Which other stories do you know that involve time travel?

What devices are used to help characters travel through time?

What clues are there in this story to indicate that Alfie has travelled in time?

 

After Reading

Making connections

Alfie Bloom has lots of things in common with other magical fantasy adventures. Compare the story with another one that you know well, for instance, Harry Potter.

Which characters fulfill the same role as Alfie, Robin and Miranda?

What about Orin Hopcraft?

Does Miss Reynard have a counterpart?

And what about the villains: Murkle and Snitch?

In The Secrets of Hexbridge Castle Alfie is befriended by a flying bear rug, Artan, and he has a special talisman. Does Harry Potter have anything similar?

What about the tell-tale Edward Snoddington?

Further research

What can you find out about the Three Fates? This story was inspired by a carving of the Three Fates? The story mentions a dragon killed by a knight in Lambton. Is this a true story? See what you can find out about the Lambton Wyrm and other dragon legends of the British Isles. How do you think these legends were started?

Who were the druids?

 

Further Reading

Alfie Bloom and the Talisman Thief

Fergus Crane Far Flung Adventures - Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell

The Never Ending Story – Michael Ende

Midnight for Charlie Bone - Jenny Nimmo

Darkmouth - Shane Hegarty

A Most Magical Girl - Karen Foxley

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