Archives For Mark Twain

The advertisement for the 55th Annual Mark Twain Library Labor Day Weekend Book Fair read,

“A large collection of Art books, Environment & Nature, Baseball books, many handsome sets and thousands of CHILDREN’s books..”

I want to make a correction to this advertisement.
There are 300 less children’s books at this book sale because there are 300 books in my car.
By next week those 300 books will be distributed into classroom libraries in grade 4-10 for independent reading.

The Mark Twain Library Book Sale in Redding, Connecticut, claims to be “the oldest – and one of the largest – in New England:”

The history of the sale begins with its namesake, Mark Twain in 1908. When Twain (Samuel Clemens) moved to Redding in 1907, he had more books than would fit in his new home so he donated over a thousand to start the Library. When Twain passed away in 1910, his daughter Clara donated more books for sale, and 107 years later, the Book Fair is still one of the library’s principal fundraisers.

This oldest book sale is also one of the best run in the state.

The sale is held in easily accessible Redding Heritage Community Center. As one entered, volunteers provided maps that detail the book table layout, from mystery selections to travel guides to a table marked ephemera.

The fiction tables in the adult section were organized by author (which made fast finding for copies of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road). Of course, having the hardcovers and trade paperbacks grouped together could be part of a sociological study in recent popular reading trends as evidenced by multiple copies of the The Stieg Larsson Trilogy/Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series (the fascination apparently over). There were wide aisles to accommodate the “book sale bump”- a result of patrons trying to read titles while carrying overloaded bags or boxes.

The volunteer help was outstanding; students (middle-high school aged) manned tables to tally books or straighten shelves. Rather than shy away, they approached shoppers with retail-like patter, “Would you like a box to place your holdings?” They checked book prices book-by-book and reloaded bags once they finished counting. Their adult supervisors handled several cashier’s tables. Outside, there were boy scouts who sold baked goods and (predictably) asked if patrons needed help carrying books to cars.

This book sale was one smooth operation.

My finds?

Capturing interest from STAR WARS films

Capturing interest from STAR WARS films

One large box filled with a variety (40+) of Star Wars related books. I am anticipating renewed interest with the December (18th, 2015) release of The Force Awakens.
10 neatly stacked copies of Jeanette Walls’s powerful memoir of her homeless parents in The Glass Castle for a Grade 12 English course.
5 copies of Under the Same Sky ( 2005) by Cynthia DeFelice which deals with migrant Mexican workers on an upstate New York farm; ideal for a small book group or lit circle. (Good story; horrible book cover).
Multiple copies of books from R.L. Stein’s Goosebumps series and from Rick Rioden’s Percy Jackson series.


Selection of high interest titles

Final price for 300 good quality, high interest books for independent reading libraries in grades 4 through 10?


Thank you, Mark Twain Library Book Sale Library volunteers. As your founder stated, “We believe that out of the public school grows the greatness of a nation.” (see post)

I know that greatness of a nation starts and continues with the practice of reading.
Your efforts will be felt in many public school classrooms in Connecticut not so far away.


The health of the American Public school system is under debate in many different arenas: political, financial, social, ideological, and now, technological. At the root of these debates is our collective recognition or understanding confirmed by the author Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens):

“We believe that out of the public school grows the greatness of a nation.”

I have used this quote many times myself, but I had never researched the quotation’s context until recently. This quote comes from an address given to the Public Education Association at a Meeting of the Berkeley Lyceum, New York, November 23, 1900. The speech was given the title, “I am a Boxer”, and its brief 588 word composition means that Twain spoke onstage for all of six minutes, applause aside.

The historical background for the speech deals with European colonization in Africa and Asia, and the American efforts to annex the Philippines.  Predictably, there was resistance by the natives of a country resulting in serious and costly conflicts such as the Boer War in South Africa and the Boxer Rebellion in China. Twain had joined with a number of other Americans including William Jennings Bryan, Andrew Carnegie, John Dewey, and William James in an effort to stop a new rush to colonize. They formed the Anti-Imperialist League, and for a short time they coordinated efforts to stop the developing American Empire. Twain’s speech also referenced Russia’s involvement in the Boxer Rebellion in joint operations with US Marines and British troops.

On that Friday, Twain opened the speech to the Public Education Association with his familiar self-deprecating humor:

“I don’t suppose that I am called here as an expert on education, for that would show a lack of foresight on your part and a deliberate intention to remind me of my shortcomings.”

He explains that his extensive travels had improved his understanding of other cultures, and that may be a primary reason for the invitation to have him speak. His best seller The Innocents Abroad had been published the previous year (1899), and he was lecturing extensively on this travelogue. But he also considered his audience and noted another reason for this address:

“The other reason that I can see is that you have called me to show by way of contrast what education can accomplish if administered in the right sort of doses.”

His argument against Anti-Imperialism was satirically addressed in the next two paragraphs suggesting if the Public Education Association’s pictures that had been sent to an exhibition in Paris could convince Russia and France to withdraw troops from colonial conflict-how quickly world peace could be achieved!

He then illustrated his Anti-Imperialistic philosophy using the Boxer Rebellion by opening with a rhetorical question:

“Why should not China be free from the foreigners, who are only making trouble on her soil? If they would only all go home, what a pleasant place China would be for the Chinese! We do not allow Chinamen to come here, and I say in all seriousness that it would be a graceful thing to let China decide who shall go there.”

The last sentences in this section of the speech are the source for the title of this speech, “The Boxer believes in driving us out of his country. I am a Boxer too, for I believe in driving him out of our country.”

The anti-immigrant declaration of “I believe in driving him out of our country” is surprising coming from the liberal Twain. One hopes he was playing to the sentiments of his audience rather than some xenophobic desire to keep America free of the Chinese. The Boxers’s fierce opposition to Christianity did not make them popular in the United States. However, the statement could also be read as a converse to the statement that the Boxer is “driving us out of his country”, a form of quid pro quo.

So how does Twain get from the Boxer Rebellion to public schools? In the paragraph that follows the declaration of commonality with the Boxer, Twain updates his satirical comments to note that, sadly, Russia would not be withdrawing its troops; there would be no world peace. Russia could choose to  have an army or public schools, and as it could not afford both, Russia had chosen the army. Twain decries the choice:

“This is a monstrous idea to us. We believe that out of the public school grows the greatness of a nation.”

In using the pronouns “us” and “we” Twain joins the service of the Public Education Association. As he committed himself to the cause of the Boxer, Twain commits himself to the cause of the educator. Immediately after this statement, Twain includes a paragraph so prescient, a reader might think it came out of a recent town hall meeting:

“It is curious to reflect how history repeats itself the world over. Why, I remember the same thing was done when I was a boy on the Mississippi River. There was a proposition in a township there to discontinue public schools because they were too expensive. An old farmer spoke up and said if they stopped the schools they would not save anything, because every time a school was closed a jail had to be built.”

Twain wryly commented on his own anecdote with a familiar “Twain-ism”, commenting that the practice of not funding schools was  “like feeding a dog on his own tail. He’ll never get fat. I believe it is better to support schools than jails.”

He ended the speech with an off-handed compliment to the Public Education Association:

“The work of your association is better and shows more wisdom than the Czar of Russia and all his people. This is not much of a compliment, but it’s the best I’ve got in stock.”

Twain’s short address connected two unlikely ideas: the Boxer Rebellion and the American public school system. The speech is humorous, highly political, and frighteningly prescient. The thesis of his argument is not found in the title, but is found in the concerns he has about the funding of public education in America and abroad. In summary, Twain believed that nations who choose to fund armies over education will not be great. Education is necessary for world peace.

Mark Twain may have claimed that “I am a Boxer” in this short address, but he communicated quite clearly “I am an Educator.” Public education already had wonderful resources in the literature of Twain with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. This speech solidly affirms his belief in the importance of our public education system. His contributions to the profession of education have not been matched since.