The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West

Overview

"Mark Twain was born fully grown, with a cheap cigar clamped between his teeth." So begins Sid Fleischman's ramble-scramble biography of the great American author and wit, who started life in a Missouri village as a barefoot boy named Samuel Clemens.

Abandoning a career as a young steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River, Sam took a bumpy stagecoach to the Far West. In the gold and silver fields, he expected to get rich quick. Instead, he got poor fast, digging in the wrong places. His stint as a sagebrush ...

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Overview

"Mark Twain was born fully grown, with a cheap cigar clamped between his teeth." So begins Sid Fleischman's ramble-scramble biography of the great American author and wit, who started life in a Missouri village as a barefoot boy named Samuel Clemens.

Abandoning a career as a young steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River, Sam took a bumpy stagecoach to the Far West. In the gold and silver fields, he expected to get rich quick. Instead, he got poor fast, digging in the wrong places. His stint as a sagebrush newspaperman led to a duel with pistols. Had he not survived, the world would never have heard of Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn—or red-headed Mark Twain.

Samuel Clemens adopted his pen name in a hotel room in San Francisco and promptly made a jumping frog (and himself) famous. His celebrated novels followed at a leisurely pace; his quips at jet speed. "Don't let schooling interfere with your education," he wrote.

Here, in high style, is the story of a wisecracking adventurer who came of age in the untamed West; an ink-stained rebel who surprised himself by becoming the most famous American of his time. Bountifully illustrated.

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Editorial Reviews

The Horn Book
“The trouble—entertaining trouble indeed—begins on page one as Fleischman brings our national comedic treasure to life.”
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
"What truly sets this biography in a class by itself…is how enthusiastically Fleischman assumes Twain’s tone."
Booklist (starred review)
“With a Twainian lilt to the prose, the book mingles deftly shaped research with snippets from Twain’s writings.”
Booklist
"With a Twainian lilt to the prose, the book mingles deftly shaped research with snippets from Twain’s writings."
The Bulletin for the Center for Children's Books
“What truly sets this biography in a class by itself…is how enthusiastically Fleischman assumes Twain’s tone.”
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
“What truly sets this biography in a class by itself…is how enthusiastically Fleischman assumes Twain’s tone.”
Abby McGanney Nolan
How does one write a biography of Mark Twain (1835-1910), who held that "a lie well told is immortal" and stretched the facts of his own life? Newbery-winning author Sid Fleischman answers with this wonderfully well-told account of Twain's formative years, his entertaining fabrications and a bewitching procession of ornery riverboat pilots, perilous stagecoach journeys and quixotic quests for gold. It is so buoyantly written that the author seems to have been visited by the charming and restless spirit of young Twain himself.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

This biography of the writer who "changed literature forever" sets a standard few can meet: it is top-notch entertainment. Newbery Medalist Fleischman (The Whipping Boy) nearly channels Mark Twain's voice, making great use of his subject's wit to contextualize his place in American letters. "Sam regarded it as akin to child abuse that his father... scraped up the funds to send him to the log schoolhouse," Fleischman writes of Samuel Clemens's boyhood in Missouri. With colorful detail, he catalogues Clemens's search for a vocation-at the print shop, on the riverboat, with the gold-diggers and, finally, at the newspaper, where he first used the pen name Mark Twain. In one illustrative example, a San Francisco theater owner suggests in 1866 that Twain give a lecture about his recent adventures in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), and he accepts, despite a lack of public speaking experience. "He did not have a gift for caution," Fleischman notes dryly. The title is taken from the lecture's advertising posters: "Doors open at 7 o'clock. The Trouble to begin at 8 o'clock." Period engravings, newspaper cartoons and b&w photographs round out this spirited portrait. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 9-12. (July)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Children's Literature - Carrie Hane Hung
Captured between the book's covers are the early years in the life of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known under his pen name: Mark Twain. Born on November 30, 1835 in Florida, Missouri, Samuel Clemens' life, travel, and experiences provided him with the ideas from which his stories grew. Just how much the stories grew was the question that Sid Fleischman tackled when he researched this book; Fleischman explains his thoughts about writing the biography in the section called "The Truth, More or Less." Nevertheless, Clemens' adventurous life as a printer's apprentice, riverboat pilot, writer, gold seeker, and storyteller, to name just a few of his vocations, is wittily shared in this biography. Follow Clemens as he traveled from Missouri out to the West to areas known then as the Nevada Territory, California, and the Sandwich Islands. The title of this book is based on the advertisement posters from the start of his career as a public lecturer in the theater. Photographs and sketches are included in the book. For further information about Samuel Clemens, Fleischman provides an annotated bibliography at the end of the book. Reviewer: Carrie Hane Hung
School Library Journal

Gr 5-9- This biography covers enough of Samuel Clemens's youth for readers to appreciate how autobiographical Twain's later novels were, but the seven years that the writer spent meandering the Wild West are at the heart of the book. Fleischman chronicles Clemens's various bouts of gold fever and get-rich-quick schemes in the Nevada Territory and the San Francisco area, but shows that it was always his newspaper writing that provided stability. At age 30, Clemens was reborn as Mark Twain when his short story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" was accepted by a magazine and drew popular acclaim. An "Afterstory" provides brief information on Twain's subsequent marriage and the publication of the novels for which he is most famous. Although similar in scope to Kathryn Lasky's A Brilliant Streak: The Making of Mark Twain (Harcourt, 1998), Fleischman's account is more engaging as he slips easily into Twain's drawling cadences. The illustrations and photographs are rich and varied, and the back matter is a work of art in itself: the time line, annotated bibliography, and references will prove useful to report writers, and the inclusion of "The Celebrated Jumping Frog..." is an extra treat.-Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA

Kirkus Reviews
The life of one of America's best-loved entertainers gets top-notch treatment in this highly enjoyable and eminently simpatico biography. Told in a vernacular worthy of the great man himself, the narrative recounts the adventures of Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain from birth through his travels in America's Wild West, switching nomenclature from Clemens to Twain as the context demands. According to Fleischman, Twain "loosened up the language for us," a fact apparent in the biographer's own delivery. To hear him tell it, Twain's accomplishments " . . . changed literature forever. He scraped earth under its fingernails and taught it to spit." The former magician-turned-novelist intrepidly meets the challenge of recording the life of a man who once notably said, "A lie well told is immortal," always noting when a fact or situation may or may not have actually occurred. All this makes for a more spirited and engaging biography than your average rote declaration of facts and dates. No worthier Twain bio will cross a child's path than this feisty title, filled to the brim with ample grins and sly, knowing winks. (Biography. 9-14)
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
“What truly sets this biography in a class by itself…is how enthusiastically Fleischman assumes Twain’s tone.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061344312
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 7/29/2008
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 466,950
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 1050L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 7.40 (w) x 10.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Sid Fleischman wrote more than sixty books for children, adults, and magicians. Among his many awards was the Newbery Medal for his novel The Whipping Boy. The author described his wasted youth as a magician and newspaperman in his autobiography The Abracadabra Kid. His other titles include The Entertainer and the Dybbuk, a novel, and three biographies, Sir Charlie: Chaplin, The Funniest Man in the World; The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West; and Escape! The Story of The Great Houdini.

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Read an Excerpt

The Trouble Begins at 8
A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West

Chapter One

The Man Who Made Frogs Famous

Mark Twain was born fully grown, with a cheap cigar clamped between his teeth.The event took place, as far as is known, in a San Francisco hotel room sometime in the fall of 1865. The only person attending was a young newspaperman and frontier jester named Samuel Langhorne Clemens.Who?A person of little consequence. He was a former tramp printer, Mississippi riverboat pilot, and ink-stained scribbler who'd made a small noise in the brand-new Nevada Territory.

Sam, or even Sammy, as boyhood friends and relatives sometimes called him, sat in the light from the hotel window scratching out a comic story about a jumping frog contest. He'd discovered the bleached ribs of the story not far off, in the California Gold Rush foothills. He now set the tale in his native folk language. He gave the story fresh and whimsical orchestration. He made it art.

He rummaged around among several pen names with which he'd amused himself in the past. Newspaper humorists, such as his friends Petroleum V. Nashby and Dan De Quille, commonly hid in the shade of absurd false fronts. Should he be Josh again? Thomas J. Snodgrass? Mark Twain? How about W. Epaminondas Blab?

Mark Twain. It recalled a shouted refrain from his riverboat days, signifying a safe water depth of two fathoms, or twelve feet. He'd given the pen name a trial run on a political scribble or two, but the name had only enhanced his obscurity. He had let it molder and die.

Still, he would feel cozy under the skin of a character from his beloved Mississippi River. Maybe he'd blow on itsashes and resurrect the pseudonym. With earnest decision, a possible snort, and a flourish of his pen, he signed the piece, "By Mark Twain."

Nothing traveled fast in those days except the common cold. But once the celebrated frog of Calaveras County reached the East Coast and was reprinted by newspapers large and small, the nation had seizures of giggles and guffaws. The merriment spread with the swiftness of a gale-force wind. The story crossed the Atlantic Ocean, and before long the English and later the French "most killed themselves laughing" as Twain reported, falling back on his Missouri drawl.

Today, we are still smiling out loud at how Smiley lost the frog-jumping contest to a stranger with a secret cache of buckshot.

Mark Twain had made the overstuffed amphibian famous. At first, the creature had grabbed the spotlight exclusively for himself. The author reacted with a bilious grunt of jealousy toward his creation. Complained Twain, "It was only the frog that was celebrated. It wasn't I."

But soon Mark Twain caught up, sprinting past the croaker to become the most famous American alive. And the funniest.

Each chomping simultaneously on the same cigar, Sam Clemens and Mark Twain conspired to write what many regard as America's greatest novels, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and its companion The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. And that's not to mention the knockabout pages of Life on the Mississippi or the fanciful The Prince and the Pauper, a novel about two look-alikes who exchange places, with results you can imagine. An unending carnival of movies, plays, and Broadway musicals have been spun off from Mark Twain's rowdy comedies and satires.

From under the author's full mustache, hanging like a rusted scimitar over his sharp quips, came an evergreen stream of wit. His sayings remain as perky today as when Twain first minted them. "Man is the only animal who blushes, or needs to," said he. "Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education." "Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it."

Not bad for a barefoot boy with a prairie fire of curly red hair who was born in Florida, a Missouri village so small that Sam remembered it as "almost invisible." Halley's comet was streaking across the sky like a chalk mark the day he was born. Seventy-five years later, it came blazing back, as if by personal invitation—the day the celebrated author snubbed out his cigar and moved in with the immortals.

But there was something more remarkable afoot in Florida, Missouri, the day Sam added himself to the world's population. Destiny had searched out the obscure village of twenty-one homes for a flash of its rarest lightning—genius.

Sam was struck in the funny bone. Burdened with literary imagination and originality, he grew up to snatch the dust covers and embroidered antimacassars off the novels of the day. He changed literature forever. He scraped earth under its fingernails and taught it to spit. He slipped in a subversive American sense of humor. He made laughing out loud as respectable as afternoon tea.

The Trouble Begins at 8
A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West
. Copyright (c) by Sid Fleischman . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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