The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According To Susy)
 
 


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The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According To Susy) [Hardcover]

Barbara Kerley , Edwin Fotheringham
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews

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
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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

Review

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,

About the Author

Barbara Kerley's award-winning biographies—including WHAT TO DO ABOUT ALICE? and THE EXTRAORDINARY MARK TWAIN (ACCORDING TO SUSY), both illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham, and THE DINOSAURS OF WATERHOUSE HAWKINS and WALT WHITMAN: WORDS FOR AMERICA, both illustrated by Brian Selznick—are consistently praised for their lively prose, meticulous research, and artistic presentation style. Kerley lives in Portland, Oregon. You can visit her online at www.barbarakerley.com.

Edwin Fotheringham has illustrated several notable picture books, including Barbara Kerley's WHAT TO DO ABOUT ALICE?, a Sibert Honor Book and a Boston Globe/Horn Book Award Honor Book, and THE EXTRAORDINARY MARK TWAIN (ACCORDING TO SUSY), a New York Public Library Best Children's Book. Edwin lives in Seattle, Washington. You can visit him online at www.edfotheringham.com.
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