Saturday, November 27, 2010


"This is a frank biographer
and an honest one
she uses no sandpaper
on me."
-- Mark Twain

Who better to tell the story of what a person is "really" like than that person's thirteen-year-old daughter? And that's exactly who is narrating Mark Twain's life in Barbara Kerley's THE EXTRAORDINARY MARK TWAIN: ACCORDING TO SUSY. Kerley has long wanted to write a biography of Mark Twain. Several years ago, she discovered that Twain's thirteen-year-old daughter, Susy, had already written one. Kerley tracked that biography down, and incorporated large chunks of it into this delightful and very readable biography of Mark Twain. Susy reveals aspects of her father that only a daughter could know-- his love of cats and billiards, his difficulties with the family donkey, and his tendency to throw shirts that were missing buttons out the window. She also shares a number of details about his life as a writer- how he would write all day and sometimes into the night if things were going well, how his wife helped with revision and editing, and how his family was often his first audience.

Edwin Fotheringham, the picture-maker extraordinaire of MERMAID QUEEN, one of last year's CYBILS nonfiction finalists, did a terrific job illustrating THE EXTRAORDINARY MARK TWAIN-- a caricature-ish Twain, complete with wild hair and mustache, appears prominently on every page, but it's Fotheringham's exuberant use of color (dark browns, greens, yellow
/golds and turquoise) and shape and especially line that are outstanding. I'm hoping for many, many more books from Fotheringham.

It's really the design of this book, however, that will grab and hold a reader's attention. The book is relatively large- probably about 12"X 14". Approximately every other page, there is a much smaller (maybe 4"X 6") inset. The insets are Susy's journal entries, her original words, (complete with a few adolescent mispellings) done in a cursive-like font. I know kids are going to love these.

Backnotes are plentiful and include:
  • An author's note about Mark Twain
  • An author's note about Susy
  • A page of terrific tips on how to write an extraordinary biography (check this page out at Barbara Kerley's website)
  • A timeline
  • An extensive list of sources
A great addition to any biography unit, or a collection of books about journaling, or just a fun read…


1 comment:

Mary Lee said...

I lovelovelove this book!