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The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According To Susy)
by Barbara Kerley, Susy Clemens
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Twain’s daughter Susy began penning a biography of him when she was 13 years old to “set the record straight.” Fotheringham’s exuberant, oversized illustrations match the life of Twain through America’s and Susy’s eyes perfectly. Author’s Note, Selected Timeline, Sources.
Susy is a little girl with nothing but love for her father, Mark Twain. After realizing that people don't know the real him, Susy decides to write her own biography on her father, detailing all of the strange and wonderful things that make him who he is. Based on the actual biography Susy wrote, this book includes her actual journal entires (misspellings and all), paired with beautiful illustrations and humorous quips. I really enjoyed reading this book and getting insight on the real life of Mark Twain, as well as seeing the sweet relationship he had with Susy. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants a laugh or to gain new information.
The Susy of the title of this wonderful picture book biography is Olivia Susan "Susy" Clemens (1872-1896), the oldest daughter of Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain. When she was 13, Susy started writing a biography of her father, because she was "annoyed" that "so few people know Papa, I mean really know him....They think of Mark Twain as a humorist, joking at everything."
Susy's mother later found the biography and shared it with her husband, who expressed "deep pleasure" at her "frequently desperate" spelling and the way she didn't "cover up one's deficiencies, but gave them an equal showing with one's handsomer qualities." And that's just what Kerley and Fotheringham do in the 19 double-page spreads of the narrative.
Eleven of those spreads feature a small four-page "Journal" glued in by its left side on the right-hand page near the gutter, making small books within the book. These "journals" contain actual quotations, misspellings and all, from Susy's biography.
Author Barbara Kerley, in an I.N.K. (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids) group blog post, said "I knew when I stumbled across Susy’s diary that it would be a rich
counterpart to Twain’s own ‘polished up’ version of his life’s story."
Later, Twain quoted extensively from Susy's biography (retaining the misspellings) in his own Chapters from My Autobiography series for the North American Review, describing Susy as "a frank biographer and an honest one; she uses no sandpaper on me," who was "loyal to the responsibilities of her position as historian."
This is all the more poignant when you read, in the author's note at the end of the book, that Susy died at age 24 of spinal meningitis. The end of the book also includes a selected timeline of Twain's life and detail on the sources used for each spread of the book. Kerley also includes an excellent tip sheet on writing a biography appropriate for students, which is also available on the author's web site.
The digital media illustrations are marvelous. The people are (appropriately) cartoon-like, to fit Twain's humor, or shown in silhouette, in color schemes fitting the period. Edwin Fotheringham even works in an 1890 photograph of Twain and Susy near the end of the book.
I can't recommend this book enough, and I'll be looking for more by Kerley and Fotheringham.
© Amanda Pape - 2012
[This book was borrowed from and returned to my university library.]
This book was an autobiography about Mark Twain based off his daughter Suzy's biography on her father. Mark Twain was a famous writer in the late 17th century, early 18th century. Suzy wanted people to know the side of her father that she knew. Suzy kept a journal on her father and would write in it every time she wanted to document something about her father that she wanted people to know. One day Suzy's mom found her journal under her pillow and showed her father. Pretending he knew nothing about Suzy's journal about him, he would now go out of his way to make pronouncements about himself for Suzy. Suzy was so passionate about writing her biography on her father and with his help she would have all the information that she needed for it. Suzy wrote down everything about her father including his hobbies, his daily routines, his traits, and about his characteristics What I love most about this book is that Mark Twain was creative and wrote an autobiography on himself based off his daughter Suzy's biography on him. While writing his biography, he made sure to include inserts of Suzy's journal that she wrote about her father. I think this is a great book for students in 5th grade and above, and can be used in either a history lesson, or a reading class. I think that this is the perfect book to introduce to students to Mark Twain.
Suzy was absolutely proud of her father and wanted everything to show that he was more then just funny. She was extremely precise about her father and his personality. She made sure that you knew that family was everything to the both of them and that more then anything she was proud to be his daughter. It is a broad over view of Mark Twain's life from a child's perspective and it is great to read to a child.
References to this work on external resources.
Wikipedia in English (1)
Thirteen-year-old Susy Clemens wants the world to know that her papa, Mark Twain, is more than just a humorist and sets out to write a comprehensive biography of the American icon.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)818.4 — Literature English (North America) Authors, American and American miscellany Later 19th Century 1861-1900
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