The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine
by Mark Twain and Philip C. Stead and Erin Stead

Overview - New York Times Bestseller
A School Library Journal Best Book of 2017

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 Read more...

In Stock.

FREE Shipping for Club Members
> Check In-Store Availability

In-Store pricing may vary

New & Used Marketplace 39 copies from $4.64

This item is available only to U.S. billing addresses.

More About The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain; Philip C. Stead; Erin Stead
New York Times Bestseller
A School Library Journal Best Book of 2017

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 2018 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

  • ISBN-13: 9780553523225
  • ISBN-10: 0553523228
  • Publisher: Doubleday Books for Young Readers
  • Publish Date: September 2017
  • Page Count: 160
  • Reading Level: Ages 8-12
  • Dimensions: 11 x 8.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds

Related Categories

Books > Juvenile Fiction > Fairy Tales & Folklore - General
Books > Juvenile Fiction > Animals - General
Books > Juvenile Fiction > Action & Adventure - General

BookPage Reviews

Twain's bedtime story

When Mark Twain’s daughters begged for a bedtime story in a hotel in Paris in 1879, he began a fairy tale about a poor boy named Johnny. Later he jotted down 16 pages of notes, only to leave the project unfinished.

Fast forward to 2014, when Doubleday acquired the rights to the story, working with the Mark Twain House and Museum and the Mark Twain Papers. The publisher turned to husband-and-wife team Philip and Erin Stead, the author and illustrator of the Caldecott Medal-winning A Sick Day for Amos McGee. The result of this years-in-the-making, grand collaboration is the highly unusual, lively The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine.

The story rolls right along, focusing on dirt-poor Johnny (and his pet chicken, named Pestilence and Famine), who, after a series of misfortunes, shows kindness to an old beggar woman. As for the titular princely hero, he only makes a brief appearance near the end, as a demanding, narcissistic young man holding a band of poor outcasts hostage in a cave.

There’s also a king and queen and a menagerie of talking animals, including an elephant that will remind fans of the Steads’ Amos McGee pachyderm. Erin’s trademark illustrations combine a variety of techniques (wood carving, ink, pencil and laser cutting) in muted colors to convey sadness, humor and immediacy, serving to pace the lengthy tale perfectly.

Not surprisingly, both pictures and words hold magic here. How could Philip pay homage to Twain while crafting his own tale? The solution: Philip interrupts chapters with imagined exchanges between himself and Twain, as they sit, sip tea and argue plot points. Somehow the whole thing works beautifully, providing readers with an intriguing look at the creative process.

This is a noteworthy publishing treat, one best shared and read aloud. Readers can imagine Twain sitting back, nodding his head and smiling as he admires this new, deeply imaginative rendition.


This article was originally published in the October 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

BAM Customer Reviews