Book Review: THE EXTRAORDINARY MARK TWAIN (ACCORDING TO SUSY) – written by Barbara Kerley and illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham

Kerley, Barbara. 2010. Ill. Edwin Fotheringham. THE EXTRAORDINARY MARK TWAIN (ACCORDING TO SUSY). New York: Scholastic Press. ISBN 978-0-545-12508-6


This insightful and charming picture book biography about Samuel Langhorne Clemens is narrated by his 13 year old daughter, Susy.  In the first lines of this humorous and touching book, Susy tells the reader that what they know about Mark Twain is “just plain wrong” (Kerley 2010).  This book details Susy’s version of her father’s story (handwritten in her journal) so that she may set the record straight.  From Twain’s early life to his writing career, readers will be brought on a whimsical journey chronicling the “details of his character, intimate life, and work routine during his most prolific years” (Paulson-Yarovoy n.d.).

This non-fiction biographical narrative is excellently organized into a story with an added summary of facts and sources. Kerley holds a child’s interest while simultaneously allowing them to extrapolate the facts of Mark Twain’s literary accomplishments.  An accurate and helpful timeline along with “line-by-line sources of quotes … and an author’s note on both Papa and Susy” are included in the last pages of this book (Paulson-Yarovoy n.d.). This story (along with the appended factual timeline and personal accounts) outline Twain’s important milestones, momentous life events, and literary works in a simple and easy to read format.

Illustrators of children’s picture book biographies often strive to “personalize the subject” and “enhance the authenticity of the time and place of the setting” (Vardell 2008, 245).  Edwin Fotheringham provides “digitally enhanced illustrations, colored with a Victorian palette and including dynamic, inventive perspectives” (Paulson-Yarovoy n.d.).  This artful design will draw children’s interest and bring Susy and her father’s story to life.  Susy’s journal is nestled between the pages creating a story within a story.  Her admiring account of her father, written in scrawling and childlike misspelled script, is “tipped into the gutters of this large-format picture book’s double-page spreads” (Phelan n.d.).


Enrichment Activities:

THE EXTRAORDINARY MARK TWAIN (ACCORDING TO SUSY) includes a back page excerpt titled “Writing an Extraordinary Biography”.  This excerpt gives children a detailed plan to write their own biography.  Moreover, Barbara Kerley’s website ( includes a wonderfully detailed guide for teachers about how to add this biographical picture book in a lesson plan.


According to Barbara Kerley’s website (, THE EXTRAORDINARY MARK TWAIN (ACCORDING TO SUSY) has won the following awards:

  • 2010 CYBILS Nonfiction Picture Book Award
  • Best Children’s Books 2010 — Publishers Weekly
  • Best Books 2010 — School Library Journal
  • Best Books for Children and Teens 2010 — Kirkus Reviews
  • Best of 2010: Books for Young Readers — Washington Post
  • A Junior Library Guild selection
  • 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing — New York Public Library
  • Eureka! Nonfiction Children’s Books Gold Award, California Reading Association
  • Winner of the Oregon Spirit Book Award for Nonfiction — OCTE
  • Oregon Book Award Finalist
  • NCTE Orbis Pictus Recommended Book
  • Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People
  • Notable Children’s Book in the English Language Arts
  • CCBC Choices 2011
  • Best Children’s Books of the Year — Bank Street College of Education
  • California Book Award 2011 nominee
  • Texas Bluebonnet Award nominee
  • Utah Beehive Book Award nominee
  • Keystone to Reading Book Award nominee
  • Children’s Crown Award nominee

What to Read Next:

Kerley, Barbara. 2008. Ill. Edwin Fotheringham. WHAT TO DO ABOUT ALICE?: HOW ALICE ROOSEVELT BROKE THE RULES, CHARMED THE WORLD, AND DROVE HER FATHER TEDDY CRAZY!. New York: Scholastic Press. ISBN 978-0439922319

Burleigh, Robert.  2011. THE ADVENTURES OF MARK TWAIN BY HUCKLEBERRY FINN. Ill. Barry Blitt. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. ISBN 978-0689830419


Kerley, Barbara. 2010. THE EXTRAORDINARY MARK TWAIN (ACCORDING TO SUZY). New York: Scholastic Press.

Paulson-Yarovoy, Sarah. n.d. “Editorial Reviews: School Library Journal.” Amazon. Accessed March 22, 2014.

Phelan, Carolyn. n.d. “Editorial Reviews: Booklist.” Amazon . Accessed March 22, 2014.

Vardell, Sylvia M. 2008. Children’s Literature in Action: A Librarian’s Guide. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

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