The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy)

The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy) by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham

At age 13, Susy, the daughter of Mark Twain, was annoyed that people writing biographies of her father got things wrong.  So she decided to write her own biography of her famous father because she truly knew him.  At first Susy’s biography was a secret but soon her parents had discovered her book and her father helped by offering quotes at opportune moments.  In her biography, Susy told of her father’s childhood, his public side and his private life.  She documented his finer qualities and also his lesser ones.  She also wrote about his writing practice and how her mother cleaned up the racier passages.  This is a biography that shows us Twain as a family man and father as well as an author.

Kerley’s biography of Twain is immensely readable and inviting.  She has incorporated passages from Susy’s biography in an inventive way.  They are placed in inserts that look like small books on each page.  Readers will be delighted by the passages and the insights they offer.  Fotheringham’s illustrations are a creative mix of vintage and modern.  Done digitally, they have a warmth and strong graphic quality. 

Highly recommended, this is a great biographical picture book for elementary-aged students.  It is also ideal to share with children who want to be writers since it shows not only Twain’s process but gives readers a young writer to model themselves after as well.  Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Also reviewed by Kiss the Book, Sommer Reading, and Young Readers.

You can read about Barbara Kerley’s own writing process for this book at INK.


Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Liam is a twelve-year-old who looks like a he’s thirty.  He’s the tallest in his class and even has a wispy beard growing in.  So Liam is able to do things that other kids his age can’t.  He rides carnival rides that they are all too short for.  He is mistaken for a teacher on his first day of school.  He pretends that a girl in his class, Florida, is his daughter.  And he almost test drives a Porsche before his father stops him.   Thanks to these mistakes, Liam lives in a place between childhood and adulthood.  So when Liam is asked to bring his daughter on the trip of a lifetime to the best theme park in the world, Liam easily decides to do it.  He needs to pose as one of the world’s best dads to get on the spaceship, and it just may take a child to be the best father in the bunch.

I love Boyce’s books because you never know what journey you are about to start out on.  The book will seem to be one thing and delightfully morph into something else along the way.  Readers will start out thinking this is a book about space travel, but it is so much more.  It is an exploration of what age means, a novel about what it takes to be a parent and what it takes to be a kid.  It is a deep book that never loses its light heart and sense of fun.

Liam is a great character who even when he is acting like a great father never could be confused with an adult.  Boyce has written a wonderful hero here who is smart, intuitive and thoroughly juvenile in a great way.

I only have one teeny quibble with the novel.  Boyce uses World of Warcraft as one of Liam’s main interests.  I play WOW and so will many of the kids who read this novel.  The problem is that Boyce gets a lots of the details of the game wrong.  Some he has right, but others are really jarringly off.  This doesn’t detract from the book’s quality, but it may really bother some young readers.  I know that whenever he got a detail wrong it pulled me right out of the story, which is unfortunate.

Highly recommended, even for WOW junkies, this book is a beauty of a novel filled with humor, grace and a hero for our times.  Appropriate for ages 10-14.

Reviewed from library copy.

Also reviewed by Nayu’s Reading Corner and Fuse #8.

Katherine Paterson on Books and Technology

Apple's iPad is no book-killer- Author says technology is a threat to reading we can overcome_1265055768920

As a librarian, we are hearing lots of people shouting that with the Kindle and now the iPad publishing and libraries are dead.  So it is wonderful and warming to read Katherine Paterson’s response to the iPad being called a “book-killer.” 

I’m storing this one away for those cloudy, bleak days when I tire of arguing that libraries and books will live on.  I consider it a battery charger for advocates.