Saturday, October 1, 2011

The House of Dead Maids by Clare B. Dunkle--SlideShare

Bibliography: Dunkle, C. B. (2010). The house of dead maids. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company.

Summary: The child who will become Heathcliff is already a savage little creature when Tabby Aykroyd arrives at Seldom House to be his nursemaid. But the Yorkshire moors harbor far worse. The ghost of the last maid will not leave Tabby in peace, yet this spirit is only one of many.

As Tabby struggles to escape the evil forces that surround the house, she tries to befriend her uncouth young charge, but her kindness cannot alter his fate. Long before he reaces the old farmhouse of Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff has already doomed himself and any who try to befriend him (Henry Holt and Company).

Tool: SlideShare

SlideShare is an effective means of putting your PowerPoint presentations online in an easily embeddable format. Simply create a presentation (or "webinar," as they are referred to in SlideShare) in PowerPoint, and upload it into SlideShare. This tool is wonderfully convenient if you need to share presentations with teachers and students but are unable to e-mail attachments to them due to size restrictions or software inconsistencies. For example, I used it last spring when I created a presentation advertising a poetry slam in the library--my presentation, made in Microsoft Office 2011, was incompatible with the 2007 version on the school computers. How did I get my presentation to the English department so that teachers could get the word out to their students? SlideShare.

This tool has some neat features that students often have trouble with when strictly using PowerPoint: Slidecast, the addition of audio (featured here), and the ability to easily import YouTube videos are two examples. I also really like that users can choose to play the entire webinar straight through or manually go slide by slide in order to peruse in more detail. Users also have the ability to download webinars, provided that the creators chose to license their products under the Creative Commons. SlideShare does have some minor inconveniences. Not all fonts are transferrable from the PowerPoint to Internet mediums, and don't waste time on slide transitions and animations in PowerPoint--they will be lost. If you need to change your project, you must change it in PowerPoint and re-upload the file. Overall, however, SlideShare is an excellent and user-friendly way to share your presentations.

(Note: In my webinar, I feature Kate Bush's classic single, "Wuthering Heights." In accordance with copyright regulations, I only use 30 seconds of this track. Remember to always respect others' intellectual property when creating your projects.)


This slim volume only takes a few hours to read, and I recommend that you budget that time and read all of The House of Dead Maids at once…especially if you’re reading it alone after dark. Dunkle’s prelude to Wuthering Heights is surprisingly disturbing, even for a ghost story, and the action begins almost immediately, with our heroine encountering her festering predecessor by Chapter Two. Dunkle leaves little to the imagination when it comes to her unholy spirits, but just in case a gore-hound reader finds her gruesome descriptions lacking, they are wonderfully accompanied by Patrick Arrasmith’s chilling illustrations.

For all of her fleshed-out horrors on the moors, Dunkle’s boy Heathcliff remains a mystery, and here lies the novel’s strength. In Brontë’s original novel, the gypsy-like Heathcliff was found and taken in by the Earnshaw family while still a small child, and little, if anything, is known of his history. While one might assume that a prelude would shed some light on his background, Dunkle leaves the reader just as confused about her antihero’s origins as Brontë did over 150 years ago, simply alluding to atrocities that he may or may not have witnessed before becoming Tabby’s charge. If Heathcliff, or “heathen git,” as he is cruelly called in Dunkle’s novel, is a tragic figure as a man, he is even more so as a child. As in Wuthering Heights, readers will be left struggling, unable to determine whether “Himself” is appealing or horrifying.

Dunkle does not leave Tabby’s character unaffected, however, and her development from pious child to dark storyteller is notable. Tabitha Aykroyd was the Brontë’s housekeeper for most of her life, and according to Dunkle, while little is known about her, we do know that her ghost stories were beloved by—-and probably influenced—-the Brontë children. I have never read Wuthering Heights (a travesty, I know, and that is why I chose to learn more about it by creating the above webinar), but my experience in The House of Dead Maids was certainly not lacking for that; in fact, it served as a successful gateway to Brontë’s classic novel, inspiring readers to explore new, dark worlds just as Tabitha's stories once did. Grades 6+.