The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy)

mark-twain-coverThis is the story of Mark Twain’s life in picture book form, with accompanying anecdotes from Susy who is writing this memoir so we can meet the “real” Mark Twain.  Susy, Mark Twain’s favourite daughter, did keep a memoir of observations of her dad for a short period of time, and excerpts from it are included as little fold out pages.  She talks about their home, his writing process and the role her mom plays, his leisure activities, and much more.

Barbara Kerley, Scholastic, ©2010, ISBN 978-0-545-12508-6

Spelling Mistakes

Mark Twain says his daughter’s spelling was frequently desperate.” Give students her spellings and ask them to spell them correctly—time them if you want to add some pressure. They need to add 5 seconds to their time for every word they still misspell.

Her incorrect words are: discribed incorectly, mustache, exept, extrordinary, sute, doute, Misouri, in good trimm, varius, chreatures (for creatures), expergate, donky, prosession.

This is a good time to mention that the first English dictionary was written in 9 years by one man, Samuel Johnson, and published in 1755. By contrast, the first French dictionary was written by an entire French Academy and published in 1694. It took 69 years to write. The first American dictionary was Noah Webster’s in 1806. After this spelling began to “solidify” into “correct” and “incorrect” spelling. Susy was writing in 1885.

A Book “In the Style Of”

This book has a particular style. For the most part it is a kind of story of Susy’s foray into biography. However, glued into place in the book are miniature foldout excerpts from Susy’s actual words. This is an excellent model to imitate.

In Social Studies it could take the form of a report on an explorer (for example) with inserted pages from his “diary” commenting on the events described on that page. In Science, it could be a report on a whale’s life cycle, with examples interspersed from the whale’s diary. In art, a research report on a particular artist could be written, with short imaginary diary inserts on occasion. Be sure that students realize the diary entries need only be 2-3 sentences long.

For 11 creative writing ideas, click The Extraordinary Mark Twain to download.


The Adventures of Mark Twain by Huckleberry Finn

The Adventures of Mark TwainHuckleberry Finn tells, in his own voice, of the life of his author Mark Twain, a.k.a Samuel Clemens.
Robert Burleigh and Barry Blitt, Atheneum Books, ©2011, 978-0-689-83041-9

A Story with Modern Expression

Huck Finn was written in the language of a back country boy in the 1800’s USA. Ask students to write any story in which they use common 21st century expressions to show how people “really talk”. First brainstorm the possible expressions students could consider: OMG, BFF, having a rush, goofing off, being gross, or lame, or awesome, or sweet, or cool. Something could rock, or suck. Things happen 24/7. There are zits. Things rock or rule.

Then ask students to write a very brief story in that “voice” as in the opening of Huck Finn. Something less that 200 words is fine. The objective is try out the “voice” of the 21st century.

Bad Luck Superstitions

Huck Finn said that Mark Twain’s luck turned bad like after “killing a spider”. Ask students to brainstorm bad luck superstitions they have heard of. They should be able to come up with:

  • Step on a crack, break your mother’s back
  • Break a mirror – 7 years bad luck
  • Walk under a ladder
  • Cross the path of a black cat
  • A shiver means a goose walked over your grave
  • Open an umbrella inside brings bad luck
  • If you spill salt, toss it over your left shoulder or you’ll have bad luck

Students might enjoy writing a story about a character who frequently but inadvertently breaks bad luck superstitions and what happens to him or her, if anything.

For 10 creative writing ideas, click The Adventures of Mark Twain to download.