The Motel of Mysteries for Perfect Picture Book Friday

Let me present:

  • The Motel of Mysteries by David Macaulay.
  • Ages 12 and up.
  • Themes: archaeology

motel of mysteries cover

My dad loves the library. He particularly loves spy thrillers and I have believed for many years that he has read all of them. Sometimes, he tells me, he gets back from the library with a fresh new book, only to realize halfway in that he has probably already read it. I was the same way as a kid, but with horse books. The children’s librarian at the Burnhaven Library put together a small catalog of chapter books on popular topics and every week, I went down the list of horse books until I had read them all. It was a great sense of accomplishment when I finished them all, but then I ran into that problem my dad probably faces: well, now what do I read?

It was always a special treat to go with Dad on his weekly visits to the library when I was little. One week, my brother and I found the “new books” display. That is where we found The Motel of Mysteries, by David Macaulay. We sat down on the floor to look through it and realized we were looking at a book unlike anything we had ever seen. It was written in the style of a National Geographic article and it appeared to be about a archaeological dig. But instead of revealing the secrets of ancient Egypt, it revealed — with hilarious wrongness — the secrets of a 1980’s motel room. The explorer, Howard Carson, misinterprets everything about the room and its contents, believing it to be a burial chamber full of religious artifacts. The TV is an altar, the bathtub is a sarcophagus, the Do Not Disturb sign is a seal to ward off thieves.

As a kid, I thought this book was pretty funny. Parts of it have remained in my memory ever since that day, resurfacing again and again. Looking at it again now, I am tickled by the section on Souvenirs and Quality Reproductions, which is a tour through the museum gift shop. Ceiling tiles have been recreated as coasters and you can have your very own coffee set based on a toilet bowl. And then there is this picture:

motel of myteries

Which is based on this one from the excavation of the ancient city of Troy:

ancient troy jewelry

When I was in college and saw this in a textbook, my mind immediately went right back to The Motel of Mysteries. There wasn’t much of an internet in those days, so I was left wondering if I had imagined the whole book as some kind of bizarre dream.

Related activities:

  • Here is a list of excavation activities for kids,
  • But if I had an older kid, I would ask him to write a story about how the items in a room of the house, like the kitchen or the laundry room, might be misinterpreted by an archaeologist of the future. I actually do this thought experiment all the time, especially when I see certain stories on the news or on nature programs. It is really helpful at developing the kind of “consider the source” thinking you have to do once you are in college. And forever afterward, I guess, if I am any indication.

This post is part of Perfect Picture Book Friday hosted by Susanna Leonard Hill. She gets the best recommendations from the best people about the best books for kids. Every week.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “The Motel of Mysteries for Perfect Picture Book Friday

  1. I remember buying this book for my brother. I love it, but had forgotten all about it. I’ll have to see if I can track it down. I’m sure my boys would laugh out loud. Thanks.

  2. I thought I knew all of David Macaulay’s books. . .thanks for alerting us to this one. How fascinating!

  3. Have never seen this book. It is a fascinating selection with excellent activities.

  4. I love David Macaulay, but I’ve never seen this one! I’ll have to check it out. Thanks for sharing it, Alicia – I love being able to add a PB for older kids!

  5. How imaginative! That sounds so much fun.

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