Monday, September 29, 2008

The Trouble Begins at 8

Fleischman, Sid. 2008. The trouble begins at 8. New York: Grennwillow.

Let me start by noting two things: 1. I loved this book 2. I think it would be better classified as a teen book. Here's why:

The Trouble Begins at 8 (a reference to how Twain billed his speaking engagements), is a highly entertaining and informative look at one of America's best known authors - although he is arguably equally famous for his biting wit. The book chronicles "the adventurous years that turned the unknown Samuel Clemens into the world-famous Mark Twain."

With chapters titled "The Man Who Made Frogs Famous,"and "Eggs, Three Cents a Dozen," through "Golden Gate, So Long," Fleischman's book follows Twain's mixed attempts at finding his fortune, his travels in the wild west, and his growing career as a writer. Peppered with many period photographs and art reproductions, as well as excellently sourced quotations, the reader is fully immersed in the whirlwind of personality that was Mark Twain. Mark Twain was at times a liar, a printer, a schemer, a riverboat pilot, a lecturer, an author, a lazy drifter, even a dueler! In his own words, "I have been an author for twenty years, and an ass for fifty-five."

The Trouble Begins at 8, ends with an Afterstory, A Mark Twain Sampler (an excerpt from the story that made him famous, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County"), a Mark Twain Timeline, References, Illustration and Photograph Sources, Bibliography, Novels and Other Works, and Index. It is an exhaustive look at a finite period in this American icon's storied life.

Some of the reasons that I loved the book are the reasons that I find it unsuitable for a Juvenile Biography classification. It's focus on a short period of Twain's life makes it unlikely to be acceptable for a school biography assignment. Additionally, Fleischman's success in offering the unique "flavor" of times gone by, makes the prose difficult reading for all but the oldest of the juvenile audience,

"In addition to the paper's social denseness, Clemens felt in the wrong harness at the fact-
obsessed Call. His nimble imagination went unappreciated. he was heavily blue penciled for
writing sentences his editor regarded as salty caviar to the paper's meat-and-potato readers. "

Fleischman's use of period quotes is also very entertaining,

"Concerning the difference between man and the jackass: Some observers hold that there isn't
any. But that wrongs the jackass,"

but perhaps above the level of the average juvenile nonfiction reader.

In short, I loved this book, but I think it will be better received by teens and adults.

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