HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and Other Stories
Author: Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens)
Illustrator: Alan James Robinson
Publisher: Filter Press, republished in 1965
ISBN-13: 978-0895774156 (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0895774151 (Hardcover)
ISBN-13: 978-0910584029 (Paperback)
ISBN-10: 0910584028 (Paperback)
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 13 and up
Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Twain, Mark (Clemens, Samuel L.) The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and Other Stories (originally published in 1865/1867; republished in 1992 by Reader’s Digest Association). In his biography for young people entitled Mark Twain and the River, Sterling North noted that while living at San Francisco, CA, in the mid-1860s, Samuel L. “Clemens took a long vacation in the peaceful Tuolumne Hills, living in the comfortable cabin of Jim Gillis (brother of Steve)—a pocket miner working over the abandoned gold diggings of that once-rich region. Sam found no precious metal, but he did pick up several stories which later found their way into his books. One of these tales he entitled ‘The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.’ In a letter to his mother, San accurately described this yarn as ‘a villainous backwoods sketch’—but it was the beginning of his fame.” A few year later, after Clemens’s return east, Sterling says, “…It was exciting to see the great City of New York once more and presently to hold in his hands his first published book—a handsome little cloth and gold edition of his Jumping Frog—containing that tale and several other sketches. Villainous backwoods story or not, all America was laughing over it, and Mark Twain could only gaze in wonder at his first little volume.”
One year when I was in high school, and I cannot remember whether it was freshman, sophomore, or junior, we had to read “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” as part of our literature studies in English class. It was first published in the New York Saturday Press in November, 1865. The narrator of the story, who is searching for a minister named Leonidas W. Smiley, visits the long-winded Simon Wheeler, a miner, in hopes of learning his whereabouts. Wheeler instead relates an elaborate story of a different man named Jim Smiley who was a compulsive and imaginative gambler and once spent three months training a frog named Daniel Webster to jump and then won money by betting on the frog. A stranger told Jim that if he had a frog, he’d bet $40 that his frog could beat Jim’s. While Smiley was out finding him a frog for the contest, the gambler, Wheeler reveals, was eventually duped by the quick-thinking stranger who filled the “Celebrated Jumping Frog” with lead gunshot so the frog couldn’t move. When the narrator realizes that Wheeler doesn’t know Leonidas and rises to depart, Simon catches him at the door and starts telling him another story about Jim’s one-eyed cow. The narrator excuses himself and leaves.
Twain wrote over 200 stories and essays. His 1867 collection The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and Other Stories, sometimes called “The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” (the original title was “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog”), contained 27 sketches that had been previously published in various magazines and newspapers. Several different editions of the humorous tale, which I have always liked, are available. One is a paperback facsimile of an 1875 edition of Clemens’ hilarious tale that includes the original story, a supposed French translation, and Twain’s tongue-in-cheek “rescue” from the French version, as well as the original illustrations plus contemporary wood engravings depicting mining life. A Reader’s Digest edition in hardback has thirteen short stories by Twain that are as full of description, feeling, and humor as a whole novel.