Monday, February 23, 2009

Book Review: The Trouble Begins at 8

The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West by Sid Fleischman. (Grades 4+)

Mark Twain was born fully grown, with a cheap cigar clamped between his teeth.

The event took place, as far as is known, in a San Francisco hotel room sometime in the fall of 1865. The only person attending was a young newspaperman and frontier jester named Samuel Langhorne Clemens

So begins Sid Fleischman's superbly entertaining biography of Mark Twain. He follows the life of Samuel Clemens from boyhood to his time piloting riverboats on the Mississippi River to his adventures in the Wild West and everything in between. I honestly wasn't sure that I was all that interested in Mark Twain, but I found his life to be very interesting and the funny, Twain-ian tone of the book completely sold me.

I found myself laughing right along as Fleischman described Sam Clemens's escapades and reading this biography really made me want to pick up more of Twain's work.

Plenty of photos accompany the text, but I think my favorite part of the book was Fleischman's annotated bibliography. He introduces it thusly:

I have no grudge against the alphabet; I live by it. But in this listing of books about Mark Twain, I felt that it would be misleading to call in the ABC's to impose a marching order. Instead, I have chosen to arrange my sources according to the magnitude of their charm for me as a reader and their usefulness to me as a biographer.

He then lists his sources, each with a note describing how they were useful and/or appealing to him. I've never seen that before and I think it's totally awesome and seriously ups the chance that someone might actually seek out some of those books.

This is a great book to hand to kids who have to read a biography and aren't really that excited about it. I'd especially hand it to kids who have read something by the author before because that might make it a little more appealing.

Read more reviews from Sarah Miller and Becky. Check out Sid Fleischman's website.

And Happy Nonfiction Monday! The Miss Rumphius Effect has the roundup.