Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Daughter's Perspective

Last night, my kids' bedtime story was  The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy) by Barbara Kerley. What I think makes this book appealing for children (otherwise--would they really be interested in a 19th century author?) is that the book is told from Mark Twain's daughter Susy's perspective.

Susy was thirteen when, all on her own, she got the idea to write a biography of her father. She wanted others to see him as he was: a complex man who could be more serious than humorous. This biography was her secret until her mother discovered her journal in her bedroom. Her father was delighted that she not only came up with the idea on her own, but that she also approached his life in a systematic, journalistic way. The author/illustrator include mini journals throughout the book, lending to that sense of her personal investment in her loving, yet honest, study of her father .

My children liked the illustrations of Twain and his cats, and I think were intrigued by the notion that kids can be writers, too. What gets in the way between the story and the younger readers (my youngest are six and eight) is some of the vocabulary; I found myself defining a number of words throughout the book.

If you like children's books about historical figures, the same author/illustrator team also produced this book about Alice Roosevelt.

Of the two, I preferred What to Do About Alice--it has a greater readability, and I think her misadventures were of more interest to my kids. Both books led me to do more research about both girls' lives, and sadly both went on to have troubled adult lives, although Susy was only given a few years to be an adult--sadly she died of spinal meningitis at the age of 24. Her early death makes her childhood ambition (she was a "busy bee" her father said), much more poignant.

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