The Blackthorn Key

The Blackthorn Key
Written by Kevin Sands

Publisher’s Summary:
In 1665 London, fourteen-year-old Christopher Rowe, apprentice to an apothecary, and his best friend, Tom, try to uncover the truth behind a mysterious cult, following a trail of puzzles, codes, pranks, and danger toward an unearthly secret with the power to tear the world apart.

Primary Source Pairing:
A setting of 1665 is hard to imagine, but the loyalty and determination of doing what is right for someone you admire and respect is timeless. Christopher’s apprenticeship to Master Benedict gives him a variety of experiences that serve him well on his mission to uncover the truth about the Cult of the Archangel. For this primary source pairing, invite students to analyze an advertisement for an 18th-century Apothecary. There is some puzzling to do over this text, just like Christopher deciphered text in The Blackthorn Key.

Questions for Discussion:

  • Describe what you see.
  • What do you notice first?
  • How much of the text can you read? What does it say?
  • What do you see that looks strange or unfamiliar?
  • How are the words arranged?
  • What do you notice about the page the writing appears on?
  • What do you see on the page besides writing?
  • What other details can you see?
  • What do you think was happening when it was created?
  • What tools and materials were used to create it?
  • What can you learn from examining this?
  • If someone created something like this today, what would be different? What would be the same?

Book Cover and Summary: Follett
Handbill of 18th c. pharmacy: Wellcome Collection. Creative Commons license: CC BY