Mark Twain. The Buffalo Climbed A Tree?.
Adapted by Tom and Mary Gilding from Roughing It. Illustrations by Robert Marr.
(Mark Twain Tales, ISBN 1-889817-00-7.)
Burlington, WI: Mark Twain Entertainment, 1996.
Unpaginated. Paper, 8-1/2" x 11". ISBN 1-889817-02-3.
Mark Twain. A Fable: A Cat, A Mirror, and A
Adapted by Tom and Mary Gilding. Illustrations by Matt Bowers.
(Mark Twain Tales, ISBN 1-889817-00-7.)
Burlington, WI: Mark Twain Entertainment, 1996.
Unpaginated. Paper, 8-1/2" x 11". ISBN 1-889817-05-8.
The following review appeared 2 April 1997 on the Mark Twain Forum.
Copyright © Mark Twain Forum, 1997.
This review may not be published or redistributed in any medium without permission.
Carolyn Leutzinger Richey <email@example.com>
San Diego State University
When I began writing this review, Taylor Roberts suggested that I may be on "groundbreaking territory," since the Forum had not yet reviewed any children's material. How ironic, I thought. After all, weren't Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and The Prince and the Pauper (among others by Twain) originally intended for children? The author affirms my suspicions in the preface to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer when he says, "My book is intended mainly for the entertainment of boys and girls." Thus for me to review Tom Gilding's books (which fall into the realm of "children's literature") is an overdue honor. Because of the nature of Gilding's books, I feel as if I'm bringing Mark Twain back to children's literature. Or, should I say I'm bringing the Mark Twain Forum back to Twain's intent?
I loved reading Tom Gilding's book Mark Twain & Me, Mikey T. It is a good read, even for an adult--and especially for a Twainiac. Recently on the Forum there have been the running jokes that you're a Twainiac if you've read Joan of Arc more than once; or you're a Twainiac if you make a yearly pilgrimage to Hannibal, Elmira, or Hartford. Let me add another to these. You're a Twainiac if you read Tom Gilding's book, because in it he presents a wealth of knowledge about Twain and writing, Hannibal, Elmira, and Hartford.
Since I liked Mark Twain & Me, Mikey T. so much, I felt impelled to share it with others. It seems as if, because of the downward glance on children's literature by many literary scholars, I wrongly felt the need to enlist others to help me validate the study of Twain as children's literature. But what does this say about Twain's work, Gilding's work, and the works of the other great "crossover" authors such as Alcott, Stevenson, Bradbury, Hawthorne, Melville, C. S. Lewis, Poe, J. D. Salinger, and Fitzgerald? Is there a difference between the genres? Is children's literature real literature? And does children's literature have as worthy an audience as other literature?
In "The Disappearance of Children's Literature," Jerry Griswold suggests that there is a paradox in the study of children's literature. He claims, "On the one hand, social critics point to an abundance of evidence and argue . . . that childhood is disappearing . . . ," while at the same time, "evidence points to an extraordinary growth of interest in children's books" (38). Let me apply this hypothesis then to the study of Twain. Perhaps we adults claim him for ourselves because we are nostalgic for all that he represents. Just as Sam Clemens recalls his childhood in Hannibal through the mythic Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, so we also longingly recall our lost youth through the same Twain works. But to keep him from the hands of our children, we insist that Twain, after all, was the great social commentator, and children nowadays just don't understand.
But it's sad what all of this represents. Maybe the literary scholars have finally gotten their way. Mark Twain is now almost exclusively relegated to the shelves of adult literature. For over a century--and even in 1996--a variety of groups have sought to ban the teaching of Huckleberry Finn to high school students. And after this year, the junior high school my daughters attend will no longer be teaching Tom Sawyer, even in the honors classes. It seems as though the children don't know who Mark Twain was, or they have never heard of Tom and Huck, except in the watered-down and sugar- coated Disney movies. They don't appreciate the humor; they don't understand the boyish adventures of being a "high-toned robber"; they don't know how to play, as Tom incessantly does. But to remove Twain's books from the shelves of children's literature makes us those "high-toned robbers." We are robbing the children of what we so vehemently appropriate for ourselves.
Gratefully, however, Twain again contradicts our twentieth century elitism regarding his books. In his preface to Tom Sawyer, he states his desire for an audience consisting of children and adults, as he writes, "I hope [Tom Sawyer] will not be shunned by men and women on that account, for part of my plan has been to try to pleasantly remind adults of what they once were themselves, and of how they felt and thought and talked, and what queer enterprises they sometimes engaged in." He clearly names children as his primary audience, and he hopes to attract adults as the secondary audience. Have we adults then usurped Mark Twain from the children?
Following this reasoning, Tom Gilding's book Mark Twain & Me, Mikey T. is one I recommend to the dual audiences that Twain classics such as Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and The Prince and the Pauper attract in 1997. As a Twainiac, I enjoyed reading this tale because it is an adventure story, not unlike The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, of a young boy living in Hannibal. Mikey T. is a kindred spirit of his hometown's most famous native son, as he's always getting into mischief following his boyish pursuits. But as an adult reader of children's literature, I look for two criteria to win me over. The book must be a good read, and there should be "layered" levels of understanding. Gilding's adventure meets both of these benchmarks. I read Mark Twain & Me, Mikey T. in just a few hours. I was fascinated by the details about Mark Twain, writing, and the joys of childhood play that Gilding weaves into his book. He did his research, which is not surprising, because Gilding regularly performs Mark Twain for elementary and secondary students--the toughest audience around (especially in a classroom setting).
Gilding admits, like Twain, that his primary audience is the children who are simultaneously being deprived of Mark Twain and the art of play. Just as we adults nostalgically gravitate to our glorified childhood memories of play and freedom, children today peremptorily propel themselves to a premature passage into an exaggerated adulthood. Gilding relates his intentions for his preferred audience of children. He says, "A goal of mine [is] to bring Mark Twain's wonderful, imaginative tales to pre-middle schoolers, with adaptations to help clarify [Twain's] thoughts." He further wants to "help them explore the wonderful world of "play" [which] too many of [his] own students have forgotten--or never knew." He succeeds on both counts because his tale is both playful and informative.
However, Tom Gilding, like all Twain scholars, thankfully ignores the dictum preceding Huckleberry Finn:
Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.Just as Twain does in his own text, Gilding violates all three mandates, as he includes the pedagogical motive of teaching writing, the moral of the importance of play to a child's life, and the plot of a boy maturing to the threshold of manhood. Through a very enjoyable storyline, Mikey T. (a "bad boy" much like Tom Sawyer) must keep a journal for a year and write his way out of "D's in English, social studies, and math" (2). And to do this, Gilding reveals through Mikey T. an abundance of information about Mark Twain, Hannibal and the surrounding area, Elmira, and Hartford.
Gilding also accomplishes the other purposes as he subtly stresses the moral of the importance of play. Paralleling Tom Sawyer, Mikey T. plays through the story and progresses from boyish adventures and troubles to the threshold of responsibility and manhood. And as in Tom Sawyer's adventures, it's not all smooth sailing as Mikey T. cleverly outwits his nemesis with pranks that would do Tom proud.
There is much to appreciate in Mark Twain & Me, Mikey T. Just as Gilding impersonates the author when he performs Mark Twain, he also mirrors many stylistic techniques. Mimicking Pudd'nhead Wilson, for example, he cleverly precedes each chapter with "Mark Twain's Calendar," which reveals more about Twain and the "moral" of the chapter. Besides using such obvious Twain quips as, "If you tell the truth you never have to remember anything. When in doubt, tell the truth," Gilding also includes some clever thoughts that could be Twain's. He incorporates them so cleverly that I can't tell if they are Gilding's or Twain's. For instance, while waiting in line at the movies, Mikey T. must avoid trouble. To do so, he "figured out the best thing to do . . . is to keep my head down and study my shoes. If I avoid eye contact . . . I don't laugh as hard. I also get to get a good look at how my shoes are holding up" (22). It sounds like a familiar Twainism. But is it?
Finally, I need to mention Tom Gilding's other books listed at the beginning of this review. Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog, The Buffalo Climbed a Tree?, and A Fable: A Cat, A Mirror, and A Picture are illustrated versions of several of Mark Twain's familiar short pieces. While these adaptations are very well written, their shortcomings lie in the illustrations. They are done in a cartoonish fashion with little color, and do no more than illustrate the words on the page. Memorable picture books, such as those by Beatrix Potter and Maurice Sendak, can keep the reader's attention with illustrations that complement the text with verve and clarity. However, Marr's and Bowers' illustrations merely depict the text. While these illustrated adaptations are relatively bland, for pedagogical purposes the tales might provide a glimpse of some of Mark Twain's wonderful stories for the younger students and for those who are less apt to read a complete work. And, after all, for some young readers, what's a book without pictures?
I hope Tom Gilding's Mark Twain & Me, Mikey T. is a success. And I hope he continues to return Mark Twain to the audience of Twain's choice--the children. Isn't the body of work by Mark Twain big enough to accommodate the dual audiences of children and adults? Just as Huck has his epiphany and resolves, "Well then, I'll just go to Hell," I guess I've had mine and I'll join him. And like Twain, who didn't "lose courage [as he saw] those great [literary] men" ("The Story of a Speech" 138), I'll go against the tide and move into this "groundbreaking" territory. "I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because they're going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can't stand it. I been there before" (Huckleberry Finn 362).
Griswold, Jerry. "The Disappearance of Children's Literature (or Children's Literature as Nostalgia) in the United States in the Late Twentieth Century." Reflections of Change: Children's Literature Since 1945. Ed. Sandra L. Beckett. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.
---. "The Story of a Speech." Great Short Works of Mark Twain. Ed. Justin Kaplan. New York: Harper and Row.