The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Book Poster Image

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Twain's classic is full of humor and suspense.

What parents need to know

Educational value

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer teaches readers what life was like for youngsters growing up in a small town on the Mississippi River during the mid-19th century. Twain provides a vivid portrait of family life, school subjects, religious school, transportation, food, clothing and attitudes that were prevalent at that time.

Positive messages

Though The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is sometimes avoided -- even banned -- because of its racist language, the book also offers life lessons. Tom is a rascal with a conscience and a loving heart; Twain teaches readers that many times children's careless antics are natural; a child can misbehave and still be "good" inside. On the other hand, the book also shows young readers that thoughtless actions have consequences, such as Aunt Polly's despair when Tom and his friends go "pirating."

Positive role models

Tom's guardian, Aunt Polly, loves Tom and treats him the same way she treats her own children, despite his antics. Much of Tom's behavior makes him more real than role model, but when his conscience overrules his understandable fear of Injun Joe, he sets a very good and brave example.


The Adventures of Tom Sawyer isn't terribly violent by teen standards, but parents should be mindful of the sensitivities of younger children. A knife murder takes place in view of two kids in the book, and a menacing villain talks graphically about cutting up the face and ears of an older woman to exact revenge on her late husband.


Young Tom Sawyer (probably 11 or 12, but Mark Twain does not tell his age) flirts with girls and kisses the girl he likes best, Becky Thatcher.


There are no curse words in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but there's offensive racist language, including the "N" word, which is used several times. Native Americans are also portrayed in a derogatory way. Not only is the villain called "Injun Joe," the author attributes Joe's ruthlessness to his race.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Injun Joe and Muff Potter drink whiskey to excess -- enough to cause them to pass out. We don't see Huckleberry Finn's father, but readers are told that Huck is neglected and ill-behaved because he is "the son of the town drunkard." Huck smokes and teaches his friends Tom Sawyer and Joe Harper to smoke a pipe.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is one of this great American author's best-loved novels. First published in 1876, it portrays childhood during the mid-19th century in an affectionate but realistic way; Twain's characters are full of wild ideas and antics that sometimes get them into trouble. Tom Sawyer is often avoided, and has at times been banned from schools, because of Twain's use of the "N" word (which appears several times) and his derogatory portrayal of Native Americans in the form of the dangerous villain Injun Joe. The novel is an extremely enjoyable one, however -- full of humor and suspense -- if readers accept that the book's outdated, unfortunate portrayal of people of color is more a function of the characters' views than the author's.

What's the story?

Mark Twain's classic novel THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER takes place in fictional St. Petersburg (a town on the Mississippi that is patterned after Twain's hometown of Hannibal, MO), where Tom lives with his Aunt Polly and cousins Sid and Mary. A mischievous, imaginative boy of about 11, Tom is often on the wrong side of the rules at school and at home. Late one night, Tom sneaks out with his friend Huckleberry Finn, and the two witness a violent crime. Afraid for their own safety, Tom and Huck promise each other to keep the night a secret, and Tom carries on his usual activities: playing pirates with his friends, flirting with the pretty Becky Thatcher, and worrying his Aunt Polly. But Tom and Huck soon find themselves in serious trouble, because they can't ignore their consciences, or the fact that the criminal has some treasure they can't resist.

Is it any good?


The Adventures of Tom Sawyer has stood the test of time because Twain's perceptive and humorous portrayal of young boys is so perfect and so universal. Twain's sardonic wit keeps the proceedings from ever seeming precious or teachy; Tom is a realistic character who could exist in any time, and his story is full of engaging slapstick and suspense. Tom Sawyer may offend some readers because of the author's use of bigoted language, but as with Twain's masterpiece, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, readers should keep an open mind to understanding the difference between the worldview of the author, and that of his characters.

Families can talk about...

  • Do you think books with bigoted language should be read in schools? Why or why not?

  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was written in the 1870s. What aspects of the book seem "historic" to you, and what seems like it could happen in any time?

  • To gain further insight into Twain's views on race and slavery, read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Book details

Author:Mark Twain
Genre:Literary Fiction
Topics:Adventures, Book characters, Friendship, History, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Barnes & Noble
Publication date:June 1, 1876
Number of pages:256
Available on:Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle, App

This review of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Great handpicked alternatives

Top advice and articles

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Parent of a 10 year old Written bySonofKatieElder January 31, 2013

Boys Getting into Trouble, Surely Not!!

This is a classic adventure book. If you are a parent, especially with boys, you know the mischief they can get up to. Times havent changed all that much. Mark Twain writes with creativity and humour which kids seem to enjoy. His portrayal of Injun Joe can be discussed both in contemporary and historical terms. This lets you explore how attitudes have changed over time. enjoy the book, my son who is 10 did and has now started reading Huck Finn
What other families should know
Educational value
Teen, 13 years old Written byBook Reviews K12 November 11, 2013

Tom Sawyer By Mark Twain

Tom Sawyer is a great book! It is about a young man that somtimes gets in trouble but is also a advantous fellow. But does have some swearing in this book. But after all its great and entertaining!
What other families should know
Too much swearing
Kid, 12 years old November 21, 2013

Smoking on Jackson's Island.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer has a bit of smoking in it, but only for 1 chapter or 2. Around chapter 13, or so. I know that the smoking starts when they take a raft to Jackson's Island. Huckleberry Finn teaches Tom and Joe Harper.
What other families should know
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking