Books Early Readers Features Genre It's Monday What Are You Reading Lifespan of a Reader Memoirs, Biographies, and Constructed Narratives Nonfiction Picture Books Reading Themes

[Monday Reading] Picturebook Biographies of Mark Twain and Robert Frost as told from Altered Perspectives

"Papa Is A Poet: A Story About Robert Frost" and "The Adventures Of Mark Twain by Huckleberry Finn"


It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community. 

We have just launched our new reading theme on biographies and memoirs. This week, I am sharing two picturebook biographies of famous classic writers, Robert Frost and Mark Twain, as told from altered perspectives, as you’d see below.

Papa Is A Poet: A Story About Robert Frost

Written by: Natalie S. Bober Illustrated by: Rebecca Gibbon
Published by: Henry Holt & Co. (2013)
ISBN: 0805094075 (ISBN13: 9780805094077)Book was borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

Told from the voice of Robert Frost’s daughter, Lesley Frost, the book begins from the time the Frost family arrived in New York City from their two years of living in England.

Before the family journeyed to their home, they stopped by the Grand Central Terminal where they chanced upon a review of a book of poems written by Lesley’s Papa, when they bought the paper from a nearby newsstand. Surprised by this, Robert Frost is said to have settled his family to wait for him in the Grand Central Terminal, and walked by himself to his publisher, fifteen blocks away to find out what was going on.

What struck me most about this story was how reading and writing seemed to be a way of being for the Frost family, how idyllic their life seem to be with all-day picnics at Hyla Brook, when they lived in New Hampshire prior to going to England. Robert Frost, apart from being a poet, apparently, was a poultry farmer who loved nature and the outdoors.

It was clear from the narrative, matched by the soft pastel hues of the illustration, how the poet and farmer Robert had such a gentle, quiet, contemplative soul about him. He also did things his own way, allowing him to perform his duties in the farm, and write at the same time:

Papa did things his way. He decided to milk his cow at midnight so he could stay awake and read Shakespeare and write poems in the hush of a sleeping household. I remember hearing the neighbors talk about the warm glow of the kerosene lamp in the kitchen window.

Parents and teachers would be happy to note that there is also an extensive backmatter complete with photographs of Robert Frost as a young man, and the Derry Farmhouse where most of his poems were written. There is also a four-page spread of Robert Frost’s most popular poems included after the Author’s Notes and a list of his famous quotations.

The Adventures Of Mark Twain By Huckleberry Finn

Written by: Robert Burleigh Illustrated by: Barry Blitt
Published by: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (2011)
ISBN: 0689830416 (ISBN13: 9780689830419). Book was borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

There must be something about Mark Twain’s free spirit as captured through his famous narratives that inspire a distinct way of telling his life story. A few years ago, I featured a biography of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain’s real name) as told by his frank biographer, Susy (see my review here).

This version of his life story is told by one of his most famous characters, Huckleberry Finn, with just a little bit of help from Robert Burleigh and the art of Barry Blitt.

I often tell my students and young readers that every book has a distinct voice, if the reader would only deign to listen. This one, clearly has its own unique twang to it, so much so that the editors have decided to write a Warning to the Reader in the beginning, providing an overview of what to expect within the pages. As seen in the image above, it is told from the voice of Huck, who is “no highfalutin talker” but one who clearly knew Mark Twain quite intimately.

This is a book that begs to be read aloud with just the right accent and the perfect amount of panache. It is told in a carefree manner, yet at the same time maintaining a commendable level of sensitivity in areas of Samuel Clemens’ life that were not always happy or rosy.

I especially liked how Huck is always shown to be just peering above Samuel Clemens’ shoulders, the narrator evidently inserting himself right along into the narrative. In the image above, it was shown how Mark Twain chose his pseudonym, given how much he loved the river and how he once longed to run one of those big steamboats along the Mississippi.

This was a lovely tribute to Mark Twain, preserving his all-American spirit, and his predilection to write the way the common people spoke during his time, instead of prettifying his words into ‘proper English.’ As noted by Huck:

Some folks didn’t take to Sam’s writin’ the way real people (like me) talks. But Sam didn’t care. He writ it like he heard it. And pretty soon, he warn’t just famous. He was rich.

I grew up reading Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, The Prince and the Pauper among others. It was lovely hearing his ‘voice’ once again through this smooth-talkin’ narrator who did his creator’s life (lived large and wide and loud) justice.

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9 comments on “[Monday Reading] Picturebook Biographies of Mark Twain and Robert Frost as told from Altered Perspectives

  1. lindabaie

    I have not read either of these, Myra and you’ve made them sound very good. They are two favorite authors so I know I will enjoy the books. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So helpful to pair writing and texts about the writer – gets students to think about the craft moves the writer makes and see how writers find topics

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oooooh, a book that needs to be read in a twang accent?! I’m your girl. lol I might have to hunt Mark Twain book down soon! My kids have grown accustomed to my many accents, but I do an exaggerated southern accent better than most (it helps that I grew up in Texas most of my life — here in the midwest, people are always asking me where I’m from). Have a great week!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve been meaning to reread Twain’s books. I tried borrowing the Tom Sawyer audiobook from the library but they only had abridged versions.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I will need to get my hands on both of these. I have liked all of Robert Burleigh’s books that I’ve read–and he writes such a variety of biographical texts. Thanks for highlighting these–both new to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love Robert Frost’s poetry, so I’ll definitely need to find Papa Is a Poet!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m so excited that Papa is a Poet is available at my library! My mother loved Robert Frost. In fact, I think I got my love of poetry in general from her.
    This Twain biography sounds like a delightful book to listen to!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Papa is a Poet is new to me. I love biographies. Thanks for the recommendation. I put it on my library list.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Sarah Sammis

    Interesting selection of books. Come see what I’m reading


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