A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher is a retelling of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Tweens who read this book might be interested in checking out some of Twain's books to read how the original story compares -- and find out more about the characters. There's some violence: Becky learns that the Pritchard brothers are wanted for possible murder; Billy Pritchard wields a knife at Becky, threatening to kill her and her family when he finds out she witnessed him robbing a grave; and later, she gets bloody and hurt in a final face-off with the brothers. Becky lies and even tampers with evidence in a criminal case, but, although her choices aren’t always great, she's trying to do the right thing (and save herself from punishment). Sailors pass a flask after their riverboat is grounded until they are "mighty spirited." One boy smokes a cigarette after finding it behind the schoolhouse. The bad guys smoke cigarettes rolled from an expensive brand of tobacco. Amy's father is the town drunk. Sam Clemens serves Becky a cup of coffee. Much of this book has to do with moving ahead after a death -- Becky, the Sawyers, and Amy all have experienced great loss in their young lives, as has the riverboat captain (and writer) Sam Clemens. Becky's heartened when Clemens tells her, "Souls that were connected don't get severed upon death. You bring along the best part of that person and you keep it with you always."
What's the story?
In this clever retelling of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, feisty Becky Thatcher has just moved to St. Petersburg, Mo., after her older brother dies of pneumonia. There, she makes quick friends with Amy Lawrence and Sid Sawyer but loathes sycophantic Tom, who tells on her when she sneaks out at night to go check on Sam Clemens' grounded riverboat. With Amy, she enters into a bet to steal from the Widow Douglas, a suspected witch. But on their way to steal some graveyard dirt to protect themselves, they run into big trouble: The Pritchard brothers are wanted in the area for robbery and possible murder, and that night Billy Pritchard catches Becky at the graveyard, where he's stealing from a grave, and he tells her, " ... if I hear word that you told on me ... I'll find you and your family and I'll see to it that none of you have mouths to talk with." But when suspicion for the grave robbing falls on the Widow Douglas, Becky goes to great lengths to prove the kind woman's innocence while still saving her own hide. And to do so, she may have to thank none other than Tom Sawyer.
Is it any good?
Even readers who haven't yet read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer will appreciate the strong-willed star at the center of THE ACTUAL & TRUTHFUL ADVENTURES OF BECKY THATCHER. She's certainly a brave girl (for example, short on change to enter in a betting pool, she offers a boy the chance to pick her scab), and she's full of all kinds of superstitions that she knows are fake but can trick herself into believing (after eating a cookie at the Widow's house for example, she falls on the floor, thinking she's been poisoned by a witch. Then she realizes the pain in her mouth is because the cookie was piping hot).
She certainly gets herself -- and some other folks -- into plenty of trouble, but in the end she's able to find a way to grow up while keeping parts of her childhood, including her adventurous spirit.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why the author might have decided to re-create such a classic tale. Can you think of a story you'd like to write from another character's perspective?
Becky says, "In my experience, adults seldom took to hearing a child's truth, least not without a heap of doubt or a switch involved afterward." Do you agree with her perspective?
What do you think of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain's real name) being a character in this book? Did you notice how author Jessica Lawson weaves in plot points that might have served as inspiration for several other Twain stories?
- Author: Jessica Lawson
- Genre: Adventure
- Topics: Adventures, Brothers and sisters, Friendship, Great girl role models
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster
- Publication date: July 1, 2014
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 224
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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