In America’s Mark Twain, McNeer uses several techniques to make this biography appealing to juvenile readers. She invents dialogue for the characters that includes general statements such as “Steamboat a-com-in!” as well as specific conversations between the characters, particularly between the young Samuel Clemens and his mother, Jane. With this method of inventing dialogue, the author is able to hold the attention of a young audience by keeping the biography lively and understandable. In an effort to capture Twain’s feelings and emotions, McNeer assumes the writer’s perspective throughout the biography. For example, McNeer states that Twain “felt like an awkward youth again as he took the hand of Olivia Langdon.” McNeer also emphasizes that, although Twain was extremely successful, he had insecurities. For example, when he was scheduled to give a lecture at Cooper Union, the largest hall in New York City, Twain gave away a large number of free tickets to schoolteachers, because he was terrified at the thought that the hall might be empty when he came out onstage. Despite Twain’s insecurities, however, his lectures were always full beyond capacity. McNeer’s ability to assume Twain’s perspective allows young audiences to identify with the human side of this legendary author.
McNeer effectively traces the development of Twain’s sensitive conscience. She cites the fact that Twain went to work as a printer’s apprentice at the age of eleven in order to support his family after his father died. Twain’s honesty is emphasized when McNeer cites the fact that, as a youth, Twain turned in a fifty-dollar...
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In America’s Mark Twain, published in 1962, McNeer follows the established criteria for the juvenile biographies of the time period. At that time, it was considered important to create a lively style and to invent dialogue in order to maintain the interest of the juvenile reader. It was also considered important to create role models by highlighting the subject’s accomplishments and contributions. To increase the ability of children to empathize with the historical figures, biographers often focused on the childhood and young adult years of these individuals. It also was not considered necessary to substantiate the evidence presented in juvenile biographies. Although McNeer follows these established criteria and does not cite any of the sources used in America’s Mark Twain, her sources are generally accurate. For example, many of the quotations that reveal Twain’s own reflections of childhood and adulthood were taken from his autobiography. Having this knowledge increases the biography’s usefulness and credibility, but McNeer does not cite the source or explain where she found her information.
The illustrations also make the biography interesting for young readers. McNeer’s husband, Lynd Ward, visited Samuel Clemens’ hometown of Hannibal, Missouri, while preparing the many illustrations for America’s Mark Twain. Ward, who won the Caldecott medal for his illustrations for The Biggest Bear (1952), also illustrated Elizabeth Coatsworth’s Newbery medal book The Cat Who Went to Heaven (1930) and Esther Forbes’s Newbery medal book Johnny Tremain (1943).