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.


Miss Alaineus

miss-alaineusSage is home sick, but she is trying to continue with her vocabulary homework. It goes awry when she mistakes miscellaneous for Miss Alaineus. Her mother is holding a box with spaghetti hair on it when she mentions she needs “miscellaneous things” from which Sage concludes she is the woman on the box. When she defines it that way, the whole class laughs. Sage is devastated until she ends as Miss Alaineus, Queen of All Miscellaneous Things at the Vocabulary Parade. This book is full of charming puns and built in word definitions.

Debra Frasier, Harcourt, ©2000, ISBN 0-15-202163-9

Clever Langauge

This book is a terrific writing model for students. Sage, our storyteller, enjoys defining words and regularly halts her sentences to define a word.  The word is in bold, and the definition is in italics.

“I thought she was an ancestor, an ancient relative long dead, who had left us…”

“ Impossible,” I told her.  Impossiblenot capable of happening.”

“I was devastatedwasted ravagedRuineddestroyedFinishedbrought to an end.”

For the most part, Sage creates her own definitions.  Students could write their own clever stories using this strategy—to write in the first person and to stop the story to define a word.  This is also an opportunity to encourage the development and use of an extensive vocabulary.

The A-Z Vocabulary Challenge

In the borders of the book are sentences relating to the plot, but emphasizing the letters of the alphabet in order:

  • B “What did I tell you?  This berserk bacteria has bulldozed me badly. Help!”
  • D “I am defective and delirious, and so I will dwindle away.” (The author has a cold at the time.)

After students have written a simple story, ask them to change and add to it until it has 24 sentences.  Then ask them to place 3 A words (using fresh verbs, adjectives, etc.) into the first sentence; 3 B words in the second…skipping X and Z (hence 24 sentences).

For 9 writing ideas, click Miss Alaineus to download.