Sid Fleischman has been one of my favorite authors since I was probably ten or so. My mom read By the Great Horn Spoon! aloud to my brother and I, and she had to stop reading over and over because we were laughing so hard, we couldn't hear her. I read every book of his I could get my hands on after that, and have a deep and abiding fondness for him. I read his memoir, The Abracadabra Kid, a few years ago and loved that too.
So it comes as no surprise that, when I spotted this on the junior nonfiction shelves at the library last week, I snatched it up. It's also not surprising that I read the first three chapters before we even left the library. Or that I swallowed up the rest of it in no time at all.
Fleischman's own love of the absurd, the fanciful, and the ridiculous-yet-believable makes him the ideal biographer for Mark Twain. Both Twain and Fleischman are able satirists, great at telling a funny story that you laugh and laugh over, only later to realize that they were teaching you something at the same time as they were tickling your funny bone. The Trouble Begins at 8 focuses on Samuel Clemens' metamorphosis from human tumbleweed who acquired and abandoned jobs freely to a celebrated humorist, lecturer, and novelist. Yes, this is written at a middle-grade level, and yes, adults will get a big kick out of it too.
If This Was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for mentions of drinking alcohol, smoking cigars, and western violence.