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Biographical/Autobiographical, BOOK REVIEWS, Middle Grade Readers, Teacher & Parent Recommendations, Young Adult Readers


By Sid FleischmanI love Sid Fleischman’s biographies.  The Trouble Begins at 8 is no exception.  The title refers to Twain’s own poster for his lectures which announced that the doors would open at 7 o’clock with “The Trouble to Begin at 8 o’clock.”

The advantages to Fleischman’s biographies (I highly recommend his other two on Harry Houdini and Charlie Chaplin.) are: (1) he approaches his subject with the sensibilities of a Newberry-Award-winning novelist, which is to say, as a story; (2) his language is easily accessible to the reader; (3) his enthusiasm and fascination with his subject is evident in every printed word is contagious to the reader.

Fleishman does use dates to define specific events such as birth, death and publication of most notable works but the text is never bogged down by chronological notation.  He concentrates on Twain’s personality and a variety of anecdotes from his life.  Twain’s sense of humor shines clearly through Fleischman’s examples, allowing the reader to fully appreciate and enjoy the charming, mischevious nature of a young Sam Clemens and the brash frankness of the adult Mark Twain.

Indeed, humor is the focus of Fleischman’s biography:  how Twain discovered and refined his sense of humor as well as his ability to successfully translate his candid observations of the people, places and things around him into print using that humor.  Fleischman points out that Twain often wrote extensively about topics that were not in line with the popular, or accepted, viewpoint of the time but was able to do so without serious consequences because he used humor to deliver his message.

For the most part this is an easy read, appropriate for 3rd Grade and up.  This book is a good resource for discovering how Mark Twain’s personality and use of humor served him and helped shape him as one of the greatest American writers of all time.  If a student is doing research on Twain he or she is probably going to want to add another print (or other) resource which includes more details on dates and specific traditional life events.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and found it a great complement to my knowledge and understanding of Mark Twain as a man and as an artist.


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