Exploring The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy)

by Barbara Kerley

A Common Core Approach


CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

The central idea of the book is how Susy showed her love for her papa by writing a biography that would set the record straight.

The book opens with an introduction to the world-famous Mark Twain and his daughter Susy—who is, as she puts it, “annoyed.”

“Troubled” that everyone has the wrong impression of Papa, Susy begins a biography to set the record straight.

Key details support the central idea:

-- her reasons for starting the biography, that she is “annoyed” and “troubled” that people do not understand Papa

-- her decision to do something about it by writing her own biography

-- her process of observing Papa’s behaviors, habits, and qualities

-- her diligence in recording these observations in her notebook

Mini-book inserts offer additional details from a primary source: Susy’s actual biography.

The book’s themes of love and of setting the record straight are evident in the care with which she writes the biography and the insistence with which she presents a well-rounded portrait of Papa filled with, as he puts it, his “deficiencies” and “handsomer qualities.”

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.3 Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

In the guidelines for grades 2-5, this anchor standard asks students to analyze the text in order to describe the connection between a series of steps in a procedure.

The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy) chronicles Susy’s process of writing a biography of her famous father:

-- the genesis of her plan to write the biography;

-- her many kinds of research, from first-hand observations, to discussions about Papa with Mama, to her analysis of his written work;

-- her diligence in recording her observations in her notebook;

-- and finally, her decision to get feedback on the content of the biography from Papa, who acts as a mentor for the project.

The book provides primary source documentation—in the mini-book inserts of Susy’s actual biography—of the research, writing, and mentoring steps in the process.

A how-to guide in the back of the book, “Writing An Extraordinary Biography,” summarizes Susy’s process and offers tips for would-be biographers.