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Monday, April 25, 2011

The Adventures of Mark Twain by Huckleberry Finn, with considerable help from Robert Burleigh and Barry Blitt. Atheneum, Simon & Schuster. 2011. $21.00 ages 7 and up

"But here's somethin' you maybe ain't yet learned of: Mark Twain warn't even his real name. His real name was Samuel Clemens. And it's Sam I mean to fix on. Not to worry, though. This ain't intendin' to be some windy bioografy. I don't lean to writin', and I don't fetch to books much either, 'specially long ones. But here goes."

Last year Mark Twain's daughter gave us an up-close and personal look at the father she loved (The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy), by Barbara Kerley).  There we learned much about the father, the humorist, the writer and the family man. Now, Huck Finn thinks it's about time he had a say in telling what he knows and thinks of his literary father.

As you can see from the front cover, the illustrator has covered most of the important 'stuff' for the audience. There's Huck adrift on a raft (well, book with Sam's portrait prominently displayed) in the Mississippi, using a pen to propel him safely downriver. He's got his slingshot and his sense of humor and he regales us with tales of Mark Twain (really Sam Clemens) and his life.

Samuel Clemens was, without a doubt, an interesting and accomplished man who dressed in white linen suits and lived the high life. Huck just wants to set us straight about his life:

"Sam built him and Livy a house out East, in the state of Connecticut, near as big as a steamboat. There was tons a' rooms, a slew of baths, a marble floor, and an outside part all wedding-caked with turrets, spires and balconies."

Using Huck's voice, Robert Burleigh creates a most entertaining and enlightening picture book biography that is sure to set some readers on the path to finding out more than can be shared here. The artwork matches the whimsy of the story, done in pen, ink and watercolor and putting Huck in every scene...watching and watching out for his creator. Huck has an abiding love for Sam and his storytelling:

"Some folks didn't take to Sam's writin' the way real people (like me) talks. But Sam didn't care. He writ it like he heard it. And pretty soon, he warn't just famous. He was rich."
He tells of Sam's boyhood on the Mississippi, his riverboat wanderings, his writing and the speaking he did because of it, and his family. He admits it's not the whole story; but he did hit the high points. He gives credit where credit is due...and thanks Sam for making Huck Finn famous, despite the fact that he was no 'mucky-muck'. He leaves us with a pointed observation:

"Still, bein' a character in a book ain't all peaches an' cream. 'Cause a character's got to go through the same stuff again and again and again. Til he's near bored to death!"

An editor's note includes a timeline of Sam Clemens' life, giving dates which Mr. Finn did not provide.

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