The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West Reviews

UPDATE TIME: 2018-01-04 
Review Score: 3 out of 5 star From 9 user ratings

"Gr 5-9-This biography covers enough of Samuel Clemens's youth for readers to appreciate how autobiographical Twain's later novels were, but the seven years that the writer spent meandering the Wild West are at the heart of the book. Fleischman chronicles Clemens's various bouts of gold fever and get-rich-quick schemes in the Nevada Territory and the San Francisco area, but shows that it was always his newspaper writing that provided stability. At age 30, Clemens was reborn as Mark Twain when his short story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" was accepted by a magazine and drew popular acclaim. An "Afterstory" provides brief information on Twain's subsequent marriage and the publication of the novels for which he is most famous. Although similar in scope to Kathryn Lasky's A Brilliant Streak: The Making of Mark Twain (Harcourt, 1998), Fleischman's account is more engaging as he slips easily into Twain's drawling cadences. The illustrations and photographs are rich and varied, and the back matter is a work of art in itself: the time line, annotated bibliography, and references will prove useful to report writers, and the inclusion of "The Celebrated Jumping Frog..." is an extra treat.-Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information. " said.

"Mark Twain is by far my favorite canonical author of American literature. Or just literature in general. He is so incredibly quotable and subverts the status quo so his larger than life persona is certainly a biographer's dream. I enjoyed this book for the most part. I did, however, think it was hard to distinguish whether this was a book for kids or adults. Yes, I found it in the juvenile section of the library, but there were many occasions where I thought to myself that this book would fare better marketed to adults than kids. There are, however, snatches of text that I would use with students either as close readings or mentor texts. So there's that.

Some of my favorite quotes from the book:

"Mark Twain was born fully grown, with a cheap cigar clamped between his teeth." (That's a way to start a story!)

"He changed literature forever. He scraped earth under its fingernails and taught it to spit. He slipped in a subversive American sense of humor. He made laughing out loud as respectable as afternoon tea." (6)

"His name went up in lights even before Edison invented the lightbulb." (161)

He was so quotable that a critic styled him 'the American Shakespeare, only funnier.'" (174)

"When Mark Twain published [The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County] in book form, he dedicated it to John Smith. He didn't know any of the multitude of John Smiths at large. His playful theory was that anyone to whom a book is dedicated would go out and buy a copy." (181)

" said.

"I 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.
" said.

" Sid Fleischman's biography of this clever, funny man will appeal to a wide range of readers. Middle and junior high school readers will be able to appreciate the humor and wit in Clemens' musings, many of which are reproduced. A solid book that I would not be surprised to see garner awards at the end of the year. " said.

"Who is Mark Twain? And What did he do with Samuel Clemens? Even if you know that "mark twain" is a riverboat term, there is still a lot to learn about the man born Samuel Clemens: his fascination with mining and get-rich-quick schemes; his travel to the South Pacific, and his evolution as a journalist. This illustrated biography looks into the adult life of Mark Twain and the life behind the famous stories.

This is fascinating reading. The author presents this biography in the same way Sam Clemens studied the Mississippi River: plumb every depth and beware of changes in the current. His unique style shows readers how the events of Twain's life "fed" his stories, all the while using a style that draws out Twain's own words, famous and otherwise.

To read our full review, go to The Reading Tub®.
" said.

"Fleischman, Sid. 2008. The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain In the Wild, Wild West.

I loved Trouble Begins at 8. Loved it. Which is to say that I more than appreciated what it had to offer. More than saw it as a good nonfiction title. I mean really and truly loved, loved, loved it. Something I usually only reserve for fiction. Sid Fleischman is awesome. His writing is just amazing. His gift with words, his literary style, was just brilliant on this one. Listen to the first sentence of chapter one: "Mark Twain was born fully grown, with a cheap cigar clamped between his teeth." Open it up to almost any chapter, and you'll find that Fleischman has a way with words, with communicating simple facts in a unique and thoroughly charming way:

"Sam landed a dream job. He was fourteen years old, as Mark Twain was later to calculate. Scholars question his arithmetic. They add a couple of years. Apprenticed to a printer who published one of the two Hannibal newspapers, the Courier, he had the privilege of sweeping up, of running and fetching, and even of learning to set newspaper type--all without being burdened with a salary. Not a cent." (25)

In addition to the great biographical narrative, the book is liberal in its use of graphics--photographs, illustrations, etc. It also has all the bells and whistles it needs: Mark Twain's short story of the celebrated frog, a time line, references (end notes), bibliography, index, etc.

Read Sarah Miller's review. She's the one that alerted me to this one.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
" said.

"Mark Twain was certainly an unusual man that kids will love learning about in the book The Trouble Begins at 8. The real trouble will be getting kids to pick up this book. It’s wonderfully well written, highly amusing, and accurate, but I doubt if kids will want to read about Mark Twain, since few have read his books. The book is aimed for 9-14 year olds, and I am highly curious to know the nine year old who has read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or The Gilded Age. Even though I have already read some of his writing, in my school system, Mark Twain is not read until junior year. Despite this, I think young readers will delight in the escapades of Mark Twain and the undeniable humor that Sid Fleischman has as well.

Mark Twain was born in the fall of 1865 in a San Francisco hotel room. The only person present was the rough riverman, newspaperman, and gold hunter Samuel Langhorne Clemens. He had writen his first story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” had hoped that the next would come easily. How was Mark Twain born? Who was Samuel Clemens? Sid Fleishman attempts to separate truth from deeply woven lies that Twain told in his autobiography.

Learn about Sam’s days in Missouri and his many get-rich-quick themes, few of which worked. Admire the handsome steamboat pilot who adventures into the west with his brother Orion.

I had so much fun reading this book! I knew Twain had a difficult life, but not to this extent. I loved the quotes peppered throughout such as “Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” Also, the book portrays Twain as a real man with his own plentiful flaws, and through difficulties he was able to become a great writer.

The has pictures of Twain and places he visited randomly in the book. I had a great time reading this with them, so that I could picture his handwriting or what he looked like. I wish they had included a painting of Twain with red hair- I can’t seem to find one anywhere.

I love the picture on the cover! It really represents so much of the book. Twain loved to entertain, and he was supposedly very good at it.

I only have one problem with the book. After reading the last chapter, I felt very sad. Twain had a very hard life. His wife and three of his children died at the end, and I felt that the end just needed a little twisting. Something about his legacy, or never really knowing exactly what his life was like.

I’ve never read any books by Fleischman before. He is known for being funny, and this book certainly is.

Comes out July 2008.
" said.

"(Very detailed review, because I'm prepping for a Mock Newbery discussion.)
Mixed feelings on this one.

I like what Fleischman did here--his biography of Mark Twain is colorful and funny, which makes total sense. The photographs and illustrations add a lot. And I liked that he included a long excerpt of Twain's writing, though I think I would have preferred an excerpt from anything more kid-friendly--Tom Sawyer, The Prince and the Pauper, Connecticut Yankee--to part of "The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" (which, I confess, I've never been able to get all the way through, even though it's short and I've spent a LOT of time in Calaveras County and ought to be interested). The whitewash chapter from Tom Sawyer would have been just right.

But: there are really too many colorful metaphors, in my opinion, and some of them are distracting. In fact, sometimes the book as a whole comes off as more whimsical than earthy.

The events aren't placed in time very well; I kept getting confused as to what happened when and in what order--he'd say at the end of a chapter something about Mark Twain being thirty-one years old, or whatever, and it would come as a surprise.

Sometimes the question of who the intended audience is comes up. Others have said that they don't think kids would be interested in this because few of them have read Mark Twain; I disagree. Kids will GET interested in Mark Twain from reading a good biography of him--it's been happening for decades; all those COFAs and orange and signature biographies, kids didn't gobble those up because they were already interested in the person--they were just enjoyable stories. I know I enjoyed reading one of those and then being able to find out so much more about the person. So it isn't that that I have a problem with. But I do think too often Fleischman assumes too much knowledge about the books--their plots and their impact. There are cultural references, too, that probably need more context--as when he says that Twain played the "ugly American" before the role had been invented; no real explanation beyond that. Do kids get what an "ugly American" is? I'm all for introducing new words and concepts, of course, but context would be good.

The book also feels off-balance--the main narrative stops in a place that seems odd to me, and then there's a very long afterword about the rest of his life that's full of interesting tidbits that I wanted to hear about in more detail.

In my opinion: not a Newbery, but an enjoyable book. Most literary kids would probably like it, and would be interested in reading some of Mark Twain's work.

" said.

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