Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Trouble begins at 8: A life of Mark Twain in the wild, wild, west

The Trouble begins at 8: A life of Mark Twain in the wild, wild, west

Sid Fleischman
For ages 12 and up
HarperCollins, 2008   ISBN: 978-0061344312

It is easy to imagine that Mark Twain arrived in this world dressed in his famous white suit, and with a large cigar in his mouth. That is how we all see him in our minds eye when we hear his name mentioned. But, he was not born Mark Twain. Instead, soon after he was born on November 30th, 1835, he was named Samuel L. Clemens. Other than being rather frail and sickly, Sam was a very ordinary boy for his time. He did not care for school and soon after his father died when he was around ten, Sam left school for good. His education did not end however, for Sam loved to read. He not only read the classics but he also devoured books about history and philosophy.

It was only after he had many adventures working as in print shops and as a riverboat pilot that Sam turned his eyes west. Here he looked for gold and he got a job writing for a newspaper in Virginia City, Nevada. The experience taught Sam a great deal about writing and human nature, and he started to develop the writing style that would later appear in his books and articles.

In 1865 Sam tried prospecting for gold in California. Though he did not get rich, he did hear a story that helped him to start his career as a writer. Under the pen name, Mark Twain, Sam wrote "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras Country." People all over the country read and loved the tale, and Sam's career as a writer and public speaker took off.

In this marvelous book Newbery Award winner Sid Fleischman not only tells his readers about Mark Twain's life, but he also captures the essence of Mark Twain's puckish nature and his extraordinary gift for writing. In a style that is very reminiscent of Mark Twain's own writings, Sid Fleishman tells a compelling story that will make readers laugh, and that will give them cause to pause and ponder. Sid Fleishman's fondness and admiration for Mark Twain comes through in his writing, though he does not gloss over Mark Twain's faults and failures.

As they complete their reading of this book, readers will feel that they have got to meet Mark Twain in a very personal way. The numerous quotations, illustrations, and photos that are found in the book provide the reader with further information about Mark Twain's adventures and his world.