Literature: Sixty Eight Rooms

A children's/young teens book by Marianne Malone. While on their sixth grade field trip at the Art Institute of Chicago, Jack and Ruthie look at the Sixty Eight Thorne Miniature Rooms. Looking in a hallway behind the rooms, Jack finds a key, one that they soon find out shrinks Ruthie down small enough to fit into the rooms. They find out that the rooms now are actually gateways into the past, from Massachusetts during the time of the Salem With Trials to Eighteenth Century France right before the Revolution. But how does this work and who else knows?


This book provides examples of:

  • Air Vent Escape: It's much more roomy if you are five inches tall. Just watch out when actually in use.
  • Artistic License Biology: The characters thought of or referred to the bug that attacked them as both a cockroach and a water bug, neither of which actually match the description of the bug in question, which was about three inches in length. Justified since they were eleven-years-old and wouldn't know the differences between bugs,
  • Anachronism Stew: An in-universe example which only adds to the mystery that Ruthie is investigating.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: Inverted. A bug looked monstrous to two five-inch kids.
  • Cassandra Truth: A young girl saw a shrunken Ruthie in one of the rooms, leading her to tell her mother that there was a doll in the room. Ruthie left before the mother could look in. Later, normal size, the girl saw Ruthie and told her mother Ruthie was the doll she saw, leading to a bemused Ruthie smiling and the mother telling her daughter she was wrong.
  • Clarke's Third Law: Downplayed and partly averted. Jack showed Thomas (from the seventeenth century) a flashlight, but tried to explain how it worked. Thomas, eight years old, doesn't understand, but comments that if it was witchcraft, he wasn't afraid of it.
  • Cool Old Lady: Mrs. Mc Vittie.
  • Disappeared Dad: Jack is raised only by his mother. The lack of a father isn't a plot issue, but their lack of money is.
  • Dramatic Wind: Whenever the key started to work, Ruthie felt a wind blow through her hair.
  • Duct Tape for Everything: Even gets a chapter named after the stuff. It works well as a sticky climbing wall for shrunken children.
  • Incredible Shrinking Kids: Part of the plot is the key shrinks Ruthie.
  • Grail in the Garbage: The key, which not only is historic (it once belonged to Christina of Milan), but also can cause girls to shrink had been found by three children in an area behind the exhibit. Jack found it on the floor near some cleaning materials.
  • Magic Pants: Their clothes shrink with them, but do so at slightly differing rates.
  • Missing Mom: In Mr. Bell's backstory, his wife died when their daughter was seven and his daughter seemed to have trouble with her mother's death, in particular by telling her father that she lost her backpack when she shrunk and went into the Thorne Rooms.
  • Nobody Poops: A slight aversion. While they were shown going to the bathroom twice, Jack and Ruthie did seem to last an extremely long time without going, from around 4:30pm on Saturday to 7:00am on Sunday morning.
  • Odd Friendship: Jack and Ruthie were described as being opposites.
  • Old Man Marrying a Child: Part of the story involved the story of Christina of Milan, who was married at 12 to Francesco II Sforza, Duke of Milan (he died a year later without the two ever meeting). She was courted by King Henry VIII when she was 16, but liked her head too much to agree. This trope was also going to be the fate of Sophie, the aristocrat Ruthie and Jack met while in 18th century Paris, but it was averted.
  • Portal Picture: The rooms work as this trope, with the painted outdoor scene backgrounds becoming the real world outside.
  • Secret Keeper: Jack and Ruthie eventually tell Mrs Mc Vittie everything about their adventures in the Thorne Rooms.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: Sophie's diary changes after Ruthie and Jack meet her
  • Starving Artist: Jack's mother is a poor artist who is behind on the rent.
  • Witch Hunt: They went to Massachusetts during the height of the Salem Witch Trials. It was an accurate description where the problem described was mistrust, especially of strangers and that people were hanged, not burned.
    • While not described in the text, an illustration showed some townsfolk with Torches and Pitchforks just outside the window from where Ruthie and Jack were looking.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: The kids shrink to the same scale as the Thorne rooms—one inch to one foot. When Ruthie comes across a crack on the ledge that measures a half an inch, the story states she finds it too large to walk over on her own. This crack would actually be scaled to six inches to the shrunken Ruthie, an easy obstacle to walk past.
    • A minor issue— the museum was stated to close at 5 pm. Jack and Ruthie slipped into the corridor at 4:55 and got up when Jack looked at his watch to read 6:00.
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