The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy)
  • The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy)
  • The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy)

The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy)

by Barbara Kerley, Edwin Fotheringham

Susy Clemens thought the world was wrong about her papa. They saw Mark Twain as "a humorist joking at everything." But he was so much more, and Susy was determined to set the record straight. In a journal she kept under her pillow, Susy documented her world-famous father-from his habits (good and bad!) to his writing routine to their family's colorful home life. Her… See more details below

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Susy Clemens thought the world was wrong about her papa. They saw Mark Twain as "a humorist joking at everything." But he was so much more, and Susy was determined to set the record straight. In a journal she kept under her pillow, Susy documented her world-famous father-from his habits (good and bad!) to his writing routine to their family's colorful home life. Her frank, funny, tender biography (which came to be one of Twain's most prized possessions) gives rare insight and an unforgettable perspective on an American icon. Inserts with excerpts from Susy's actual journal give added appeal.


* "Kerley's text gallops along with a vitality to match her subject's antics..." --School Library Journal, starred review

* "Irrespressible Alice Roosevelt gets a treatment every bit as attractive and exuberant as she was." -- Booklist, starred review

- Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book

- Parents' Choice 2008 Approved Award Winner

- Kirkus Reviews "Best of Children's Books 2009"

-Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

From The New York Times:

What if your child wrote a book about your life? How would the story of your days read when channeled through those shrewd, ­judgmental eyes? Would you seem like God when God walked in the garden, or would you seem like Papa Doc, the tyrant, the crafter of rules and breaker of ­treaties?

This is what happened to Mark Twain. His 13-year-old daughter, Susy, in secret, chronicled his life. From her notes, the source of a great new book — \u201cThe Extraordinary Mark Twain\u201d — you can conclude either that he was the best father who ever lived, or that he was simply favored by his era, that time before muckraking memoirs and celebrity-daughter tell-alls. Or perhaps a bit of both.

Written by Barbara Kerley and illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham, \u201cThe Extraordinary Mark Twain\u201d began with one of those tantalizing tidbits writers sometimes stumble across. Kerley, whose previous works include \u201cWhat to Do About Alice?\u201d and \u201cWalt Whitman: Words for America,\u201d happened to spot a footnote about a \u201cbiography\u201d that Susy, Twain\u2019s eldest daughter, had written. \u201cI was immediately intrigued,\u201d Kerley writes in an author\u2019s note. \u201cHaving been the parent of a 13-year-old girl myself, I know they tend to call it like they see it.\u201d

Kerley has used Susy\u2019s text, from a notebook filled with the neat cursive of the day, to construct a kind of dual bio­graphy, the story of Twain and the story of Susy telling the story of Twain. Every few pages, Kerley includes samples of the journal, minibooks stapled to the spine: \u201cHis favorite game is billiards,\u201d Susy writes, \u201cand when he is tired . . .  he stays up all night and plays. . . . It seems to rest his head.\u201d

Twain is the great hero of American literature, the father of us all, the author of \u201cThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,\u201d but also the world traveler and story-spinner. Kerley gives us a quick sketch of the boy who became the artist, the early years in Hannibal, Mo., the life of the steamboat pilot, the life of the newspaperman and the life of the young author. It\u2019s a story told also in Fotheringham\u2019s pictures, which suggest works of American folk art — the side-wheelers crowding the harbor, the green hills above the river town, the author laughing as he reads his own book.

But more than the public man, what you get here is the husband and father, the private figure named Samuel Clemens. The authors — by the end, Barbara Kerley and Susy Clemens seem like co-authors of this book — tell you what you want to know about Twain: He paced the floor between courses at meal time; he threw his shirts out the window; he wrote all day, breakfast till dinner, filling 50 pages at a pop; he talked to the cat; he hid from fans but now and then got stuck when (Susy quoting Twain) \u201cmentally dead people brought their corpses with them for a long visit.\u201d

Susy\u2019s physical description of her father fills me with joy, as it\u2019s just the way a man wants to be seen by his progeny: \u201cHe has beautiful curly gray hair, not any too thick, or any too long, just right; a roman nose, which greatly improves the beauty of his features, kind blue eyes, and a small mustache. . . . In short he is an extrodinarily fine-looking man. All his features are perfect exept that he hasn\u2019t extrodinary teeth.\u201d

Other than that last part, I mean.

Though Susy began writing in secret, Twain soon discovered what she was up to. \u201cAfter that,\u201d Kerley writes, \u201cPapa sometimes made pronouncements about himself at the breakfast table just to help his bio­grapher along.\u201d Years later, Twain published parts of Susy\u2019s diary in The North American Review,

Publishers Weekly
Kerley and Fotheringham (What to Do About Alice?) pair up again to offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse of another famous family. Wanting to present a portrait of her papa beyond that of just humorist and author, Mark Twain’s 13-year-old daughter Susy spent a year chronicling her observations and reflections. While her entire work was published in 1985 (Papa: An Intimate Biography of Mark Twain), Kerley contextualizes the teenager’s admiring musings with vivid familial backdrops. So when Kerley notes that Twain’s wife often would “clean up any questionable passages” in his writing, Susy’s biography states that this meant “some delightfully dreadful part must be scratched out.” Minibooklets titled “Journal” appear in the fold of many spreads, containing excerpts from Susy’s notebook (some may find the flowery typeface of the inserts hard to read). Adding dynamic flair to the limited palettes of each digitally created scene are curlicues representing words, which emanate wildly from pen tips, pages, and mouths. Author notes about Susy and her father, a time line of Twain’s life, and tips for writing an “extraordinary biography” complete this accessible and inventive vision of an American legend. Ages 7–11. (Jan.)
Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
According to his daughter Susy, Mark Twain was not the person the general public thought he was. After learning that Twain's thirteen-year-old daughter had written her own description of him in her diary, Kerley has drawn on that to produce an account of Twain's life and personality. When he learned about Susy's journal, Twain not only encouraged her but added information when requested. She observed his writing routine, his impatience with visitors, and his delight in retreating to his farm in the country. Twain reads to the family from Huckleberry Finn; Susy comments on The Prince and the Pauper, his work on General Grant's memoirs, and his silly as well as serious behavior. Fotheringham's digitally produced double-page scenes are lively depictions of the anecdotal text. They also draw on sections of Susy's journal, cleverly included as attached inserts. The illustrations emphasize Twain's comic commentaries along with his actions. Along with additional notes on both father and daughter, Kerley includes a page on how to write "an extraordinary biography," a time line, and a list of sources. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
Gr 3–6—Kerley and Fotheringham again craft a masterfully perceptive and largely visual biography, this time about the iconic 19th-century American writer. In pursuit of truth, Susy Clemens, age 13, vows to set the record straight about her beloved (and misunderstood) father and becomes his secret biographer. Kerley uses Susy's manuscript and snippets of wisdom and mirth from Twain's copious oeuvre as fodder for her story. The child's journal entries, reproduced in flowing handwritten, smaller folio inserts, add a dynamic and lovely pacing to the narrative, which includes little-known facts about Twain's work. The text flawlessly segues into Susy's carefully recorded, sometimes misspelled, details of his character, intimate life, and work routine during his most prolific years. Digitally enhanced illustrations, colored with a Victorian palette and including dynamic, inventive perspectives, tell volumes about the subject by way of Fotheringham's technique of drawing lines that represent Twain's impatience, mirth, smoking habit, love for family and cats, storytelling, pool-playing, and truth-pondering. The opening and closing illustrations of Susy's writing process are depicted visually—scribbles emerging from pushing her oversize pen, and her metaphorically teasing out her Papa's mustache, pen in tow. Kerley dedicates an appended, one-page guide to writing biographies to Susy, a biographer who "applied no sandpaper" to her subject. Line-by-line sources of quotes, a time line, and an author's note on both Papa and Susy are appended. A delightful primer on researching and writing biographies, and a joy to peruse.—Sara Paulson-Yarovoy, American Sign Language and EnglishLower School PS 347, New York City
Kirkus Reviews
From 1885 to '86, Mark Twain's 13-year-old daughter Susy Clemens wrote a 130-page biography of her father out of indignation: Her dear Papa was no mere humorist! This large-format picture book from the creators of What to Do About Alice? (2008) contains numerous excerpts from Susy's sprightly biography/journal, presented throughout as mini-spreads, spelling errors intact. (Twain described his daughter's spelling as "frequently desperate.") Kerley's conversational, quotation-rich narration effectively complements Susy's insights, and the result is an affectionate portrait of Twain as writer and family man. Twain aficionados will be especially captivated by its fullness, as he's not revealed as the author of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn until mid-book. Fotheringham's dynamically composed, digitally created full-bleed illustrations, both inventive and appealing, effectively recall the 19th-century setting, and big, swirling lines reflect the flourishes of an ink pen. A favorite spread shows the grand Connecticut house as a cross-section, with Twain going about his routine in every room, even taking a bath! A heartwarming tribute to both the writing life in general and the well-loved humorist-oops, sorry Susy . . . "Pholosopher!" (author's note, how to write a biography, time line, sources) (Picture book/biography. 8-11)

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Product Details

Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
8.88(w) x 12.22(h) x 0.40(d)
AD1090L (what's this?)
Age Range:
7 - 10 Years

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