Kerley, B., & Fotheringham, E. (ill.) (2010). The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy). New York: Scholastic Press. ISBN: 9780545125086
Annotation: Mark Twain was a famous author and humorist, but his daughter, Susy, didn’t think “experts” had the full picture of the man. She set out to fix this by writing her own biography of her father and showing the world just what kind of man he was.
Reaction: The thing that I love most about Barbara Kerley’s books is the way they make me want to seek out more information about whoever she’s writing. Suddenly, I want to learn everything I can about people I either didn’t have much of an interest in before or people I didn’t even know existed! She also makes me want to read everything she’s written. I think this is why her books would be so useful in a classroom; her writing style engages the reader and gives him/her just enough information about the subject to be intrigued and want to learn more. I learned more about Mark Twain thanks to this book than I ever knew before and made me interested in learning more about his life and maybe even reading some of his books. These are things I never would have thought about doing otherwise, which is why I think her books are so successful.
I love the way Kerley incorporated Susy’s journal entries as a separate but connected part of the book as a whole, and I love how many quotes from primary resources she uses throughout. I also like the way she distinguishes between quotes from Susy and quotes from Twain by using different fonts for each, setting them apart from each other and the rest of the text. This was just such a fun spin on a regular biography, and as we all know, I LOVE sassy ladies and real girls and women who can show readers just what ladies are capable of, and Susy is right up there with the sassiest of the bunch. I love her, and the mention in the author’s note of her death at 24 made me really sad.
Fotheringham’s illustrations are, once again, delightful, and he does a great job of highlighting the especially funny bits of Kerley’s writing, such as the illustration of a young Mark Twain pretending to by dying just to get out of going to school.
I would use this as a part of a writing unit for 5th-9th grades, as an introduction to a biography writing assignment, which could easily be tailored to suit that wide age range. I would also use this in high school as an introduction to whatever Mark Twain books get read in English. I know this would have made me more inclined to enjoy Huck Finn when I was a sophomore.
Media Used: Digital Media