New York Times Bestseller!
A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
A never-before-published, previously unfinished Mark Twain children’s story is brought to life by Philip and Erin Stead, creators of the Caldecott Medal-winning A Sick Day for Amos McGee.
In a hotel in Paris one evening in 1879, Mark Twain sat with his young daughters, who begged their father for a story. Twain began telling them the tale of Johnny, a poor boy in possession of some magical seeds. Later, Twain would jot down some rough notes about the story, but the tale was left unfinished . . . until now.
Plucked from the Mark Twain archive at the University of California at Berkeley, Twain’s notes now form the foundation of a fairy tale picked up over a century later. With only Twain’s fragmentary script and a story that stops partway as his guide, author Philip Stead has written a tale that imagines what might have been if Twain had fully realized this work.
Johnny, forlorn and alone except for his pet chicken, meets a kind woman who gives him seeds that change his fortune, allowing him to speak with animals and sending him on a quest to rescue a stolen prince. In the face of a bullying tyrant king, Johnny and his animal friends come to understand that generosity, empathy, and quiet courage are gifts more precious in this world than power and gold.
Illuminated by Erin Stead’s graceful, humorous, and achingly poignant artwork, this is a story that reaches through time and brings us a new book from America’s most legendary writer, envisioned by two of today’s most important names in children’s literature.
A Bank Street College of Education Best Children's Book of the Year
"Will capture the imaginations of readers of all ages"—USA Today, ★ ★ ★ ★ (out of four stars)
★ "Samuel Langhorne Clemens himself would be proud."—Booklist, starred review
★ "A cast of eccentric characters, celestially fine writing, and a crusade against pomp that doesn't sacrifice humor."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
★ "Completing a story penned by arguably America's greatest author is no easy feat, but the Caldecott-winning author-illustrator (and husband-wife) team proves more than equal to the task. . . . A pensive and whimsical work that Twain would applaud."—Kirkus, starred review
★ "The combination of Twain’s (often sarcastic) humor and “lessons of life,” a touch of allegory, and Stead’s own storytelling skills result in an awesome piece of fantasy."—School Library Journal, starred review
★ "Beautifully understated and nuanced illustrations by Erin Stead add the finishing flourishes to this remarkable work."—Shelf Awareness, starred review
“drawn with a graceful crosshatched intelligence that seems close to the best of Wyeth.”—Adam Gopnik, The New York Times
"Twain and the two Steads have created what could become a read-aloud classic, perfect for families to enjoy together."—The Horn Book
"Artful and meta and elegant”—The Wall Street Journal
"Should inspire readers young and old to seek further adventures with Twain."—The Washington Post
Working from notes Twain made after telling an especially successful bedtime story, Philip C. Stead completes the tale of gentle Johnny, whose heart is pure despite his bleak surroundings and cruel grandfather. A magic flower gives him the power to understand the speech of animals, and a menagerie of kindly creatures helps him win the reward for finding the kingdom's lost Prince Oleomargarine an insufferable twit, as it turns out. In postmodern fashion, Johnny's odyssey is often interrupted by imagined banter between Twain and Stead, who sit outside an island cabin and argue about how to proceed. Erin Stead's exquisite woodblock-and-pencil prints give the creamy pages an ethereal feel; her detailed close-up portraits of the main characters create a sense of intimate acquaintance. Even the action spreads have the stately appearance of medieval tapestries, as when Johnny and his animal family appear before the king: the tiny monarch, a tad defensive about his stature, sits on a throne that elevates him almost to the ceiling, putting him face-to-face with the delegation's giraffe. At the story's heart is a plea for honesty and kindness, expressed in its purest form by Johnny, who unlike his voluble authors doesn't say much. "Then he opened his mouth and discovered the words that could save mankind from all its silly, ceaseless violence.... He said: I am glad to know you.' " Stead stays faithful to Twain with a cast of eccentric characters, celestially fine writing, and a crusade against pomp that doesn't sacrifice humor. Ages 8 12.