I haven’t read Tom Sawyer in about 30 years, and the biggest surprise is that I think the book only uses the “N-word” one time, and it’s beyond unnecessary in the novel. Though to the credit of Mark Twain’s penchant for casual bigotry, there’s plenty of other slurs.
So I read this as a kid, and I can’t swear to why anybody (I read it in school) thought it was a good idea. The irony is lost on kids, and while it’s actively hilarious — I laughed aloud multiple times — again, it’s really based in a knowing kind of adult reader less than in kids. So a kid would have to be pretty precocious to catch the little references, to understand what’s so funny about the school teacher sneaking little glances of an anatomy textbook during school and keeping it under lock and key, and even seeing the brilliance in Tom’s schemes.
So the book if you haven’t read it, is more episodic than Huck Finn, which is really episodic. The main episodes that people recall is of course the “White Washing” scene, which is classic; the chase scene through the caves after the picnic, which is actually a much smaller scene than I remembered; and Tom and Huck (another boy named Joe) living on the island, and attending their own funeral.
What I didn’t remember is Huck saving the Widow Douglas, and my favorite scene in the book where Tom scams a bunch of “tickets” from church that students would otherwise have to quote Bible verses to win, enough to trade in for a fancy Bible that Tom wants for the credit of it. Of course it blows up.