We are excited to join Kidlit Frenzy’s Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year. For November-December, we are featuring Paranormal Fantasies: Dragons and Unicorns, Vampires and Elves.
As such, we are also sharing picture book biographies of word weavers and fantasy makers.
I am fascinated with picturebook biographies that are told from altered perspectives: case in point would be Minette’s Feast told from the perspective of Julia Child’s cat, two PBBs on Emily Dickinson, and a PBB about Gandhi and the Great Salt March as told from a grandchild’s eye.
This particular book, however, takes the proverbial cake, as this is an actual biography of Mark Twain as written by his then-13-year old daughter Susy. In Kerley’s author’s notes, she mentioned that she has always wanted to write a biography of Twain, and when she chanced upon Susy’s notebook that provided painstaking details of her observation about her father, Kerley knew she had her story.
For the voyeur in most readers, you’d be intrigued to know that there are actual journal notes that you can open in a few of the book’s pages. More than the beautiful and seemingly-authentic typography, Kerley and Fotheringham were also faithful in ensuring that even Susy’s spelling errors are included in the narrative.
Susy was annoyed at how most people tend to assume that they know who Mark Twain was (or Samuel Clemens in real life). She wanted to set the record straight with her biography that allowed for more objective insights, more intimate observations, and balance the positive with the occasional negative traits.
Susy was particularly insistent that while her father was known to be quite the humorist, she believes that in their private lives, he is more earnest than comical. And that over and above being a writer, he is actually more of a philosopher.
Mark Twain eventually became aware that his daughter was writing about him, and he took to doing posturings at the dinner table and would even provide little clues and fragments of past experiences here and there to guide his biographer along. Susy also mentioned that while her father would lose himself in his writing, her mother would painstakingly cut and edit sections of his father’s writing “to clean up any questionable passages.”
What really struck me as I was reading the book was how Susy regarded her father with such a clear gaze yet with such penetrating insight too for a girl of 13 years. And similar to last week’s picturebook biography on Emerson created by the same team, this one is also filled with an amazing list of resources, along with very detailed notes on not just Mark Twain but also the bright Susy Clemens.
The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According To Susy) by Barbara Kerley and IIllustrated by Edwin Fotheringham. Published by Scholastic Press, New York, 2010. Book borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.
Reading Challenge Update: 276 (25)