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Newly Discovered Mark Twain Children’s Book to Be Released

Fans of Mark Twain will be pleased to learn that a new children’s book is being released later this year which is based upon notes written by Twain from a story he used to tell his two daughters at bedtime.

Twain would regale his daughters with a story about a poor young boy who is able to talk to animals after he eats a magical flower. The story must have sparked Twain’s imagination as he began to jot down notes about the tale. Alas, the story was never published or even fully developed in Twain’s lifetime but all is not lost.

Whilst searching through the Twain archives at the University of California, Berkeley, scholar John Bird discovered the notes Twain had written, which were entitled “Oleomargarine.” More than a century after Twain began his notes, the book will finally see the light of day.

Double Day Books for Young Readers bought the rights for an adaptation from the Mark Twain House and Museum and will be releasing an expanded version of the tale called “The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine.” The story has been expanded by the children’s book author-and-illustrator team of Philip and Erin Stead (pictured) and it is now a 152-page illustrated children’s book featuring giants, dragons, talking animals, and a wicked king. In a cool twist, Mark Twain himself will appear in the book, arguing with writer Philip Stead about how the story is going! A nice nod to the fact that many readers will argue that no one could manage to match up to the literary skills of Twain.

The Steads were the first to admit that trying to finish a work by such a revered author was a huge undertaking. “We said yes before our brains could tell us it was a terrible idea and we would never be able to do it,” said Mr. Stead in an interview with The New York Times.

Erin Stead, who illustrated the books, said they were both very aware of undertaking such a task. “We both just tried to approach the text respectfully and with as much reverence as possible,” she said. “No one’s qualified to write for Mark Twain.”

Twain fans will be interested in reading this adaptation of his notes as it will mark the first time Twain has written a book for children. Twain noted on his journal that he would constantly make up stories for his children at bedtime and they would often give him inspiration such as an image from a magazine or a visual prompt to give him something to build upon.

As Twain wrote in his journal: “They were a difficult and exacting audience — those little creatures,” he wrote of his daughters in his journal. “The stories had to be absolutely original and fresh.”

The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine will give readers a small glimpse at what it must have been like to have such a great writer create a bedtime story just for you. The manuscript itself was only 16 pages long and follows a poor starving boy named Johnny who is given a magic seed. The seed blooms into a flower and Johnny discovers he can talk to animals after eating the flower. He then joins the animals to save Prince Oleomargarine who has been kidnapped by giants and been imprisoned in a cave guarded by a dragon. A note shows that Twain scribbled down a suggestion from his daughter Susie who asked if a kangaroo could be the hostess. The character of Johnny was a reoccurring character in Twain’s bedtime stories to his girls for some time.

The idea to feature Twain as a character in the book came when Mr Stead found himself arguing in his head with Twain about how the story should go. He found the imagined conversations so compelling that he decided to include them. In order to try and capture Twain’s natural speaking voice, Mr. Stead read the two Twain autobiographies, which Twain had dictated.

“I tried to approach the project as a piece of oral history,” Mr. Stead said. “This was a story that Twain told his daughters, and now he’s going to tell it to me, and now I’m going to tell it.”

The book is expected later this year in Autumn on September 27. It will no doubt be a great way for parents to introduce their children to the writing of Mark Twain.

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