From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 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 English Lower School PS 347, New York City
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Two texts run though this unusual book. The first is Kerley’s account of Samuel Clemens’ 13-year-old daughter, Susy, who decides to write her father’s biography in her journal. The second is a series of excerpts from that actual biography, neatly printed in scriptlike font with Susy’s misspellings intact. These entries appear on smaller, folded pages, each marked “JOURNAL,” that are tipped into the gutters of this large-format picture book’s double-page spreads. Though a story about someone writing a book sounds a bit static—and it sometimes is—Kerley manages to bring Susy and her famous father to life using plenty of household anecdotes. With a restrained palette and a fine sense of line, Fotheringham’s stylized, digital illustrations are wonderfully freewheeling, sometimes comical, and as eccentric as Susy’s subject. Appended are author’s notes on Samuel and Susy Clemens, tips on writing a biography, a time line, and source notes for quotes. An original. Grades 2-5. --Carolyn Phelan