“An autobiography that leaves out the little
things and enumerates only the big ones is
no proper picture of the man’s life at all; his life consists of his feelings and his interests, with here and there an incident apparently big or little to hang the feelings on”
Mark Twain’s Autobiography, 1906
The lessons in this Smithsonian in Your Classroom
introduce students to the life and work of an American author, Louisa May Alcott or Samuel Clemens, through four sources:
We’ve treated the authors separately for the sake of
adaptability. The materials may be used in a full unit
on Little Women, Tom Sawyer, or Huckleberry Finn. A
children’s biography (Cornelia Meigs’s Invincible Louisa
or William Anderson’s River Boy, for example) might
complement the autobiographical piece. Or you might
adapt the lesson ideas to the study of another author.
- a portrait from the Smithsonian’s National portrait Gallery
- a commemorative stamp from the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum
- a piece of autobiographical writing
- an abridged passage from a novel
For Alcott, we’ve selected entries in her girlhood
journal and part of an early chapter of Little Women;
for Clemens, his explanation of his white suit in Mark
Twain’s Autobiography and part of the last chapter of Tom
Sawyer, in which Huckleberry Finn has fled for the first
time from the Widow Douglas’s civilizing influence. In a
study of Alcott, it should become clear that Jo March is
an autobiographical character. Clemens gave Tom Sawyer,
rather than Huckleberry Finn, many of the outward
circumstances of his own childhood, but students will
perhaps see that there is a good deal of the author in
Huck’s contrary position toward society, a contrariness
that is central to the theme of Huckleberry Finn.
Reading either author, the students might also see—better
yet—that their own lives and their own views can be the
basis of creative writing.
Download the Lesson Plan
Mark Twain in His Times
This magnificent site by University of Virginia scholar Stephen Railton includes the complete texts of six books by Twain and lavishly illustrated contexts.
National Portrait Gallery
National Postal Museum
Orchard House – Home of the Alcotts www.louisamayalcott.org
The official site of the Louisa May Alcott house includes a room-by-room tour, biographies of the Alcott family, and information on joining the Scrap-Baggers, a club for young enthusiasts.
Books for Teachers
Kaplan, Justin.Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain. Simon and Schuster, 1983.
Shealy, Daniel, ed.The Journals of Louisa May Alcott. University of Georgia Press, 1997.
Shealy, Daniel, and Joel Myerson, eds.The Selected Letters of Louisa May Alcott. University of Georgia Press, 1995.
Stern, Madeline B.Louisa May Alcott: A Biography. Northeastern University Press, 1999.
Ward, Geoffrey C., Ken Burns, and Dayton Duncan. Mark Twain: An Illustrated Biography. Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.
Books for Students
Brown, Don. American Boy: The Adventures of Mark Twain. Houghton Mifflin, 2003.
Collins, David R. Mark T-W-A-I-N! A Story about Samuel Clemens. Lerner Publications, 1993.
Gormley, Beatrice. Louisa May Alcott: Young Novelist (Childhood of Famous Americans Series). Simon and Schuster, 1999.
Aller, Susan Bivin. Beyond Little Women: A Story about Louisa May Alcott. Lerner Publications, 2004.
Anderson, William. River Boy: The Story of Mark Twain. HarperCollins, 2003.
Ditchfield, Christin. Louisa May Alcott: Author of Little Women. Scholastic, 2005.
Graves, Kerry A. Girlhood Diary of Louisa May Alcott, 1843–1846: Writings of a Young Author. Capstone Press, 2000.
Lasky, Kathryn. A Brilliant Streak: The Making of Mark Twain. Harcourt, 1998.
Mason, Miriam E. Mark Twain: Young Writer (Childhood of Famous Americans Series).Simon and Schuster, 1991.
Meigs, Cornelia. Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women. Little Brown, 1995. Prince, April Jones. Who Was Mark Twain Penguin Putnam, 2004.