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

UPDATE TIME: 2018-06-29 
Review Score: 3 out of 5 star From 9 user ratings

"Have you met Mark Twain? If you haven't, or if you met some stodgy old coot, you should pick up this biography and meet the hilariously funny alter ego of Samuel Clemens! The title of Sid Fleischman's newest book comes from the original publicity posters created by Mark Twain for his first lecture: "Doors open at 7, the trouble to begin at 8." Samuel Clemens was one for adventure of all kinds, from piloting riverboats on the Mississippi, writing as a journalist, humorist and novelist, prospecting, and spending an entire two weeks as a soldier during the Civil War. One of his best friends referred to him as "the hardest-working lazy man I ever knew!" Fleischman doesn't spend a lot of time on the most famous works, like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn; instead, he spends his time showing us the events that became the fodder for many of those stories and novels. This is a well-written, amusing biography that includes cartoons, photos, and illustrations which add to the delightfulness of the title -- and Mark Twain is someone that every student should meet. 6th grade and up." said.

"The cool title gets explained in the foreword of this biography of Mark Twain as well as every silly and serious thing that happened to Mark Twain. While nothing delves too deep into any of the events, the stories he published, the books or the life he led, it does paint a broad picture of the man that took to wearing white suits in his later years. Everything from his time on a Mississippi steamer to his travels out west and his love for Hawaii (then called the Sandwich Islands-- which was a neat bit of information).

It's a great book about failure and rising from it. Mark Twain spent many years penniless, with just his words and wit. He took to presenting his ramblings and comedy on stage which is the namesake title. He would create a poster advertising the event with all sorts of half-truths or outright lies and at the bottom note "The Trouble Begins at 8". Very clever.

I learned quite a bit though some stories or quotes I didn't quite understand, but overall it's a funny biography with enough to keep readers interested. Though if you're looking for hard and fast dates, details, and stories, this isn't the book though there are timelines, further reading, and an index. But the meat of the story is really just a story itself with pictures for good measure, which sometimes makes for the best kind of nonfiction.
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"I was browsing the new non-fiction titles in the children's section at the library, looking for any books about penguins or dinosaurs that might interest my 3 year old when this book caught my attention. The book itself, the size, cover, photographs and illustrations were appealing and I was curious to read a biography about Mark Twain that was written for children.
Writing a biography about Mark Twain can't be an easy task, especially one aimed at young children. Twain did not exactly leave a lot of reliable material about his early years behind. And then, how do you capture the humor and wit of Mark Twain in such a way to make it appealing to your audience?
I thought Fleischman crafted a fun and witty look at Twain's life including the events that shaped his early works of non-fiction, er, fiction, or wait, are they fiction or non-fiction? Roughing It and The Innocents Abroad. Fleischman's style often seemed to channel Twains style of witty and tongue-in-cheek humor, which only seemed befitting and the best way to make a biography about Mark Twain appealing to a young audience.
The numerous illustrations and photographs throughout were a little poorly placed but added a great deal to the text.

We'll stick with the books about penguins and dinosaurs for my son for now and come back to this one when he is a few years older. :-)
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"Mark Twain was born fully grown, with a cheap cigar clamped between his teeth . . .

While not as in-depth as a scholarly biography of Twain for adults nor the same as reading Twain himself, this is probably the next best thing in both instances--an engaging way to introduce kids to both the man and his writing. Fleischman has always been a clear descendant of Twain and he does a good job of using Twain-like language to tell the story of the man's early years, how he went from being born Samuel Clemens to becoming his chosen pen name.

Learning to read was a momentous event in Sam's life. It would soon enable him to breach the borders of Hannibal and to shake hands with the world at large. He mastered the printed page in lightning storms of boyish curiousity. With a memory well stocked with flypaper, he could reel off whole pages from tales of adventure. He could spell almost as well as the dictionary and triumphantly walked away with all the school spelling prizes. Words were a conjuration, and their charms had begun to bewitch him.


Clemens reacted with dismay at the gross humbugability of his fellow man. This judgment would agitate his sensibilities until he petrified into a public scold. So ruffled did he become at the human gift for homespun ignorance and hypocrisy, for greed and crackpot bigotry, that he would become a one-man firing squad.
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"I'm not a big Twain fan, so I was a little unsure going into this one. But let me tell you - this is a great story on its own merits. Sure, I think it would help going in to know what a famous literary figure Twain turned into, but I don't buy the argument that kids won't read it because it's about a dead writer they don't care about. Fleischman does a fantastic job of showing the tragedy, humor and adventure in Twain's life, using a chatty, over-the-top style that's perfectly suited to his subject matter. I wasn't quite sold on Fleischman's biography of Houdini, but here he's found his subject, and he does it justice. He also discusses how tricky it is to figure out what was real and what was a tall tale in Twain's life. We get the flaws and the glory, the debt and the successful river boat captain, the Wild West and the cramped stagecoach, the duels and the tree-climbing buffalo.

I would definitely recommend this both for fun and for those pesky biography assignments. It fits the bill at over 100 pages, with plenty of content and no dry passages, and splendid references at the end. There's a timeline, index, bibiography, a note on distinguishing fact from fiction, and commendably thorough references on quotations and pictures. But don't let this sit on the shelf until someone needs a biography for a class project - this is an entertaining story in its own right, and should appeal to kids with an interest in adventure, history, travel, the Wild West, and so forth.
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" Everything about this book suggests the time and place and life of Mark Twain: off-white creamy paper, flourishes on each chapter heading, archival photographs, cartoons and paintings. Fleischman’s style is also appropriate, folksy and humorous, with comments such as ‘Nothing traveled fast in those days except the common cold’. Short chapters, double-spaced text, oversized format and tidbits of interesting information will draw young readers into this biography, Fleischman’s second in two years, the first being Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini.
There are lots of useful nonfiction features here: a timeline of Mark Twain’s life, pages of annotated references, sources of the photographs and illustrations, a bibliography and a list of Twain’s works. Best of all, the biography makes clear the impact of the success of Twain’s first published story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County; the text is included at the end.
Yet somehow Mark Twain’s life story didn’t engage me the way Mark Twain’s writing does. For one thing, I couldn’t help questioning some of the information and/or the way it was presented. For example, the caption under the famous Norman Rockwell painting of a boy grimacing while his mother gives him medicine, reads “Mark Twain confessed to generously sharing his doses of medicine, when no one was looking, with the family cats.” Young readers not familiar with the painting are likely to think the picture is Twain himself and are unlikely, I think, to check the source reference in the back. Throughout the book, Fleischman questions Twain’s truthfulness, even in his own autobiography, but I found myself questioning information given here. Perhaps this would be an opportunity for direct instruction on nonfiction text features? In any case, the book would be an attractive nonfiction addition to a study of Twain’s classic fiction.
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"As a young troublemaker growing up in small-town Hannibal, Missouri, Sam Clemens never would have guessed that he would someday become the wealthy and famous author Mark Twain. (We should be glad he chose the river jargon Mark Twain as his pseudonym because we might have ended up with a distinguished American literary figure named W. Epaminondas Blab or Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass.) During his wild and varied life, Sam would work as a printer, a Mississippi riverboat pilot, a journalist, a gold prospector, and a travel writer before becoming a novelist and lecturer. His trademark wit and humor would become such a part of his personal and professional life that it is hard to untangle the fact from the fiction in his own biography. When he brought to life timeless characters like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn (based on his young self and childhood friend), Mark Twain changed the fabric of American literature - and humor - forever.

The writing in this book takes some getting used to, but from what I remember of Twain's works that I've read, it's pretty faithful to his style. Sometimes the humor is so dry that you almost have to go back and read it again, so I'm not sure if every young reader is going to get a lot out of it. Just reading about all the different adventures and careers that peppered Twain's life, though, is entertaining enough, so I'm sure this book will find its audience. I think it's also an interesting exercise in trying to figure out what parts of Twain's life he made up or exaggerated - and whether that even matters. Definitely recommended for Twain fans.

I would recommend this book to kids in grades 5-9, although there may be some fourth graders who are ready for it. It will entertain fans of adventure and history and those who like trying to figure out if someone is telling the truth or not. It might appeal to older fans of humorous nonfiction like Knucklehead by Jon Scieszka or historic adventure stories like the graphic novel Around the World by Matt Phelan.
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"Reading about Twain can be fun and Fleischman proved it!

A thorough, detailed, beautifully written book about one of the most beloved authors of all time, Samuel Clemens, but we know him as the master-writer of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer... Mark Twain.
Sid Fleischman has once again taken a topic that causes most kids to run screaming in the opposite direction - and made it interesting, intriguing and most importantly - Fun! You will thoroughly enjoy the wisecrack for which the book is named..."The Trouble Begins At 8."

The life of Mark Twain has been written about by some of the brightest minds, however, knowing these texts are written with a dialogue that will never reach children, Fleischman targets the young minds with his books. Not an easy task and yet he has been able to deliver the absolute perfect mix of educational information and entertainment to keep youngsters turning pages and parents happily observing. Sid Fleischman writes with an elegant, well informed simplicity that immerses the reader, breathing life into the pages of the book, so much so that at the conclusion it feels more like you have spent time with these people as opposed to having read a book about them. Every character, as well as, each stage of Clemens' journey contributes depth and richness to the story and has been beautifully captured in this unique, highly entertaining biographical book that reveals the creation of Mark Twain. From his early days in Missouri, through his quite interesting personal adventures; as a steamboat pilot, mining for gold, dancing the 'kangaroo' in San Francisco, just to name a few.

While you may think you know all there is to know about Mark Twain you have never had the pleasure of reading anything quite like this. Complimenting the narrative are numerous black and white photographs that truly bring the legend to life.

Often referred to as a 'gentlemen of leisure,' Mark Twain's life was above all, interesting. Sid Fleischman has captured the essence of this free spirited writer that today is one of only a handful of authors counted as true masters of the pen. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in literature, regardless of age. Sid Fleischman is a talented writer and his ability to continually breath new life into old stories is unparalleled. This is an exceptionally well written and highly enjoyable read - Don't Miss it!
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August 2018 New Book:

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