cover image The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West

The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West

Sid Fleischman, . . Greenwillow, $18.99 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-06-134431-2

This biography of the writer who “changed literature forever” sets a standard few can meet: it is top-notch entertainment. Newbery Medalist Fleischman (The Whipping Boy ) nearly channels Mark Twain's voice, making great use of his subject's wit to contextualize his place in American letters. “Sam regarded it as akin to child abuse that his father... scraped up the funds to send him to the log schoolhouse,” Fleischman writes of Samuel Clemens's boyhood in Missouri. With colorful detail, he catalogues Clemens's search for a vocation—at the print shop, on the riverboat, with the gold-diggers and, finally, at the newspaper, where he first used the pen name Mark Twain. In one illustrative example, a San Francisco theater owner suggests in 1866 that Twain give a lecture about his recent adventures in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), and he accepts, despite a lack of public speaking experience. “He did not have a gift for caution,” Fleischman notes dryly. The title is taken from the lecture's advertising posters: “Doors open at 7 o'clock. The Trouble to begin at 8 o'clock.” Period engravings, newspaper cartoons and b&w photographs round out this spirited portrait. Final art not seen by PW . Ages 9–12. (July)