America's Mark Twain Critical Context - Essay

May McNeer

Critical Context

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).