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

Fleischman, Sid. The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West. 2008. 196pp. Lexile 1050.

Fleischman is best known for his entertaining historical fiction such as Newbery award winner, The Whipping Boy.  In later years, Fleischman applied his high energy style to biographies of his heroes.  His love of language is as evident in this biography as in his fiction, resembling Mark Twain's style.  Even the title of this biography is catchy; it comes from posters for speaking engagements that read, "The trouble to begin at 8 o'clock." The account emphasizes adventures in Twain's life that informed his writing, from his childhood in Missouri to his stint as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi.  It moves to the West with Twain's attempts as a prospector and his work as a journalist.  Well-chosen, often humorous, quotes and colorful anecdotes make for lively reading.  The biography has open design and lots of attractive graphics including cartoons, photographs, posters, and illustrations from Twain's books.  The famous story, "The Celebrated Frog of Calaveras County," is reprinted in the back where there's also a timeline, source notes, bibliography, and index. 

Reading Std #4: Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including technical, connotative, and figurative meanings; analyze role of specific word choices. Have students look carefully at Fleischman's colorful word choice.  For example, in mentioning Twain's the date of death, Fleischman describes it as "the day the celebrated author snubbed out his cigar and moved in with the immortals."  If you are studying Twain, have students make comparisons between his use of language and Fleischman's.