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

UPDATE TIME: 2019-01-13 
Review Score: 3 out of 5 star From 9 user ratings

"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.
" said.

"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.
" said.

" 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.
" said.

"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.
" said.

"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!
" said.

"time is engaging for a wide range of students.
Another book that was featured by the Orbis Pictus award for outstanding nonfiction for children, was The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West, by Sid Fleischman. Fleischman’s story of Samuel Clemens tells the coming of age story of a nobody that’s adventurous life turned him into a very well-known somebody. Starting in his childhood Fleischman walks the reader through Mark Twain’s early years, giving the reader a good idea of his early life, but the focus of this autobiography is the years that Twain spent out in the West, trying every get rich quick scheme that he could find. Starting out as a steamboat pilot, Twain tried out a multitude of careers including gold and silver mining. Sam Clemens struck out many times before he decided to reinvent himself as the man that we know him as today. Clemens coined the name Mark Twain in a hotel in San Francisco at the age of 30. Fleischman skillfully crafts the story of Mark Twain, full of wit and humor, which highlights and gives the reader a better understanding of the man behind The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The story is engaging and keeps the reader interested. You get to see a different side of the well-loved author. You see his childhood and the adventures and trials that he faced before settling down.
The book was well researched and you could tell the chronology, although the specific dates were only mentioned every so often. You could tell the structure of the book without being overloaded with information, which kept with the story like feel of Fleischman’s account of Mark Twain’s life. The book includes occasional pictures and illustrations, which either showed real pictures of Twain’s life or characterizations of different events. These images added to the readers understanding of the author and made the story more interesting. You were able to put a face with the words and the actions. At the end of the book Fleischman included a timeline of the events in Twain’s life, from his birth all the way to his death. He also included a list of sources, as well a bibliography. The interesting thing about the bibliography was that Fleischman chose to order his bibliography in order from most useful to least useful. This alone is a testament to his writing style and the witty banter that is present throughout the bibliography. With larger font, and line spacing this book is made accessible to younger audiences. Although the layout and style of the book is accessible, the content and vocabulary of the book is a bit advanced for younger readers. The vocabulary is advanced and challenging and included some words that I was barely familiar with. Also, Fleischman’s writing makes a lot of assumptions about the reader’s prior knowledge of Mark Twain’s books. This book would be helpful in the classroom in sparking students’ interest in this iconic writer.

Teaching Idea: Have students create a small book about Mark Twain, or another person that has had a biography written about them, that includes big events in their life, quotes, etc. This will allow them to creatively report on one person.

Reading level: 5th-7th

Fleischman, S. (2008). The trouble begins at 8: A life of Mark Twain in the wild, wild West. New York, NY: Greenwillow Books.
" said.

" Amusing short biography of Samuel Clemens and a good intro to his stories, many of which were inspired by events during or people in his life. " said.

" This was mildly amusing and I did learn a few things about Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens that I didn't know before. " said.

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