From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 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
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*Starred Review* When Mark Twain first started giving speeches, the poster advertising them read, “Doors open at 7. The trouble begins at 8.” This is the spirit in which Fleischman writes about Twain, talking about him as an author, of course, but also as steamboat pilot, a journalist, a prospector, and a lecturer—in other words, as an adventurer who didn’t mind a little trouble. In keeping with this theme, Fleischman doesn’t dwell on Twain’s best-known books, featuring Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, but spends most of his time on Twain’s earlier years, showing how young Samuel Clemens’ myriad adventures became the building blocks for his stories. With a Twainian lilt to the prose, the book mingles deftly shaped research with snippets from Twain’s writings. One of Fleischman’s goals is to show Twain’s noted wit; today’s kids, however, may not find some of Twain’s writing particularly amusing, its humor disappearing in the mists of time. What will probably delight readers more are Twain’s amazing exploits aboard stagecoaches and steamboats, making and losing fortunes, and trying to find his place in the world. Numerous illustrations—photos, cartoons, and memorabilia—and solid, well-sourced back matter add to the enjoyment, as does a sampler of Twain’s work. Grades 5-8. --Ilene Cooper