The cover illustration shows a sinister cuckoo bird emerging from a cuckoo clock.
DON'T BEAT THE CLOCK!
Tara the Terrible. That's what Michael Webster calls his bratty little sister. She loves getting Michael in trouble. Making his life miserable. Things couldn't get any worse. Then Mr. Webster brings home the antique cuckoo clock. It's old. It's expensive. And Mr. Webster won't let anyone touch it. Poor Michael. He should have listened to his dad. Because someone put a spell on the clock. A strange spell. A dangerous spell. And now Michael's life will never be the same again...
Michael Webster has to deal with his annoying little sister Tara, who is always lying and getting him into trouble with their parents. Unfortunately, Tara never gets blamed for these things. On his twelfth birthday, Tara ruins everything. She scratches the new bicycle he was given, tells his crush that Michael likes her, opens all of Michael's presents ahead of him, and purposely trips Michael while he is carrying his birthday cake, resulting in the cake splattering over Michael's face. Of course, Michael's the only one who gets yelled at, reportedly for not being concerned about Tara's safety.
A few days later, his father purchases an antique cuckoo clock from a local store called Anthony's Antiques, that is supposed to have one flaw. He had been admiring the clock for fifteen years but Anthony was not willingly to sell it until recently. It has been said that it was created by a sorcerer and if a person can figure out the clock's secret, it can be used to go back in time. Tara fools around with the clock and her father gets very upset. This gives Michael an idea on how to get back at Tara. That night, when the clock strikes midnight, Michael sneaks downstairs and grabs the cuckoo's head and twists it around backwards. He hopes this will get Tara in trouble for sure.
The next morning, Michael wakes up and realizes that it is his 12th birthday all over again. He thinks it's because of his wish to re-do his birthday, but realizes that since the cuckoo's head is facing backwards, time is going backwards, too. At midnight, he tries to turn the head back to normal, but he realizes that the clock has not been bought yet. He heads back to bed, and wakes up a few days earlier. He remembers the day was when his frog costume for the play "The Frog Prince" gets its zipper stuck, Tara opens the door, and he's embarrassed in front of Mona. He tries to change events by not going upstairs. However, the girls arrive and although he tries to get out of it, they talk him into doing it anyway.
Michael decides this time to lock the door. Unfortunately, he forgets that the lock is broken because it was fixed on his birthday, and the girls see him in his underwear just like before. The next day is worse, as he has a bad day at school when he gets beaten to a pulp by star athlete named Kevin Flowers after Tara sneaks Kevin's favorite cap into Michael's backpack. He starts to worry, and tries to tell his family but they don't believe him.
The next morning, Michael is back in the third grade. He finds himself disgusted by how immature his friends are, and goes to sleep, while thinking that he might be erased for real. The next day after that, Michael is in second grade. That afternoon, he heads over to Anthony's Antiques, only to find it closed. He attempts to break a window with a brick, but his father catches him and takes him home, criticizing him for going on the bus alone.
The next day, he wakes up as a five-year-old. He is bored and inattentive, faced with problems such as tying his shoes. However, since he still has the brain and mind power of a twelve-year-old, he does it very easily. After school, he attempts to catch the bus to the antique shop again, but finds his mother waiting for him outside the school to take him home. The next day, he wakes up a year younger, and his four year old self is taken to nursery school. He initially just sits in the nearest corner of the room in despair, with no intention of participating in any nursery school activities, but his teacher is not keen on that idea, and takes him outside to play with four-year old Mona in the sandbox.
He attempts to socialize with her, but she begins to torment him in manner similar to his sister Tara. Eventually she and four-year old Ceecee goad him to climb a tree but while doing so, Michael remembers that this was the year that he broke his arm, and this was the incident that lead to it. The next morning, Mike wakes up in what he thinks is prison, until he realizes he can barely walk. He soon realizes that he is a baby, wearing a diaper; unable to escape his crib because of his weakened muscles, and unable to talk properly, he feels trapped. After having a bottle-feeding, a diaper change and a minute in the baby pen, Michael starts to feel like he will never get to the clock and that this day as a baby might be his last.
His mother takes him to see his "daddy" at work and Michael realizes this is his chance. His parents are heading into Anthony's Antiques. While his parents get into an argument over a new kitchen table, he crawls quickly towards the cuckoo clock. Just as it rings for a twelfth time, he grabs the head and twists it forward again, then sets the year dial to 1995, accidentally knocking an unknown year off in the process. In a bright flash of light, Michael is taken back to the morning of his 12th birthday.
Although it's not quite the present, Michael is still happy to be twelve again. However, he notices that Tara is nowhere to be seen. During his 12th birthday without Tara, his bike isn't scratched at all, his birthday cake is actually eaten and Mona's best friend tells Michael that Mona has a crush on him, which makes Mona blush.
A few days later when the clock is delivered, Michael discovers a defect; its year dial is now missing one year — the year in which Tara was born. Michael realizes that after that year was knocked off, when time reset to the present year it skipped the year that Tara was born, which prevented Tara from coming into existence. Michael thinks that there might be a way to bring her back, and he says he will. Maybe.
Reprints and rereleases
2003 - 2007 reprint series
||September 1st, 2020||Collection||Paperback|
- The 2003 reprint of this book changes Tara's birth year from 1988 to 1996. The 2015 e-book and the 2020 Retro Fear Collection reprint rewrites Tara's birth year as 2008.
- The year dial on the clock changes too. In the 1995 edition, it ends at 2000, in the 2003 edition, it ends at 3000, and in the 2015 e-book, it ends at 2050.
- Additionally, in the 1995 and 2003 editions, Michael figures the clock maker thought the world would blow up in 1999 or 2999, respectively. The 2015 edition changes it so Michael says the clock maker thought the world would simply end in 2049.
- In the 1995 and 2003 editions, Michael uses the encyclopedia for his homework. In the 2015 edition, he uses the den computer to do research on the Internet. Michael tells his dad he can't take the whole encyclopedia to his room in the 1995 and 2003 editions, while in the 2015 edition he tells his dad he needs the Internet for his homework.
- The 2015 ebook changes "You look like the Hulk!" to "You look like the Thing!"
- The 2020 Retro Fear Collection reprint drops the page count from 120 pages to 114.
- In the UK, this is the twenty-sixth book in the original series.
- In Portugal, this is the twelfth book in the original Goosebumps series.
- In France, this is the twenty-fourth book in the original series.
- Tara is called "Tania."
- In 1997, Crystal Craft released a wall clock based on the book exclusively in Australia.
- According to the Goosebumps Holiday Collector's Caps Book, while signing books in a mall bookstore, a girl walked up to R.L. Stine. Her name was Tara, and she asked R.L. Stine to make her a character in a Goosebumps book. She said that she wanted her character to be bad, so R.L. Stine named the character Tara Webster (also known as "Tara the Terrible") after her.
- R.L. Stine has cited this as being one of his favorite Goosebumps books.
- Michael and Tara's father was mentioned by name in the book: Herman Webster.
- This name is reminiscent of Herman Webster Mudgett, better known as H.H. Holmes, an American serial killer. It's unclear if this was intentional.
- This book references The Incredible Hulk, and Donatello of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
- R.L Stine's name on the book's spine is written in black on certain prints of the book. This is the only book to feature his name in black lettering. On other editions of this book it is written in yellow. The 2020 Retro Fear Collection reprint also writes it in yellow.
References in other Goosebumps media
- A story regarding the inspiration for Tara Webster can be found on page 32 of the Goosebumps Holiday Collector's Caps Book.
- Multiple Give Yourself Goosebumps books reference The Cuckoo Clock of Doom:
- The Cuckoo Clock makes a cameo appearance in The Knight in Screaming Armor. However, when the reader interacts with the clock, they end up becoming the cuckoo bird inside the clock (which is a different outcome than in the book).
- In Deep in the Jungle of Doom, Cronby the Troll asks the reader questions about this book and Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes.
- In Elevator to Nowhere, there's a storyline where the reader must know that the Cuckoo Clock makes people younger or else they're accused of being a traitor.
- A store named "The Cuckoo Clock of Doom" appears in the background of Squeal of Fortune.
- The Cuckoo Clock appears in Goosebumps Night of Scares in the basement.
- The Cuckoo Clock makes an appearance in Goosebumps: The Game inside Dead House. Similar to the events of the book, if the 1988 plate is removed, a ghost will vanish from existence in a manner similar to Tara's erasure.
- The Cuckoo Clock makes a cameo in Stine's basement in the film Goosebumps.
- In Escape from Horrorland (video game), this book's original cover was used as a card in a matching mini-game.