Sunday, November 07, 2010


Little Ella Kate Eming didn’t stay little for long. Due to a gland disorder that was poorly understood by the doctors of the late nineteenth century, she sprouted up like the tallest sunflower, ultimately over eight feet. In her small town in Missouri, she was able to find friends and had parents who cared for her dearly, building her a special desk for school, hemming her dresses longer and longer, and always advising her to “stand straight” instead of hiding her difference. All the same, some painful teasing makes it so she stays close to home. When a man from a museum approaches her with an unusual gig, will she cower or come into the spotlight? One of the most heartwarming parts of the story is when Ella Kate can finally afford to build a house to her specifications, and can really be at home, in her own place and her own body. First-person narrative helps to bring Ella Kate to life, and makes all the more palpable the pain of the moniker of “freak,” but also makes her victories glow all the more brightly, a woman who traveled, earned money and had great and unique adventures when few opportunities were available to women of any size. The matte acrylic illustrations are folksy but still manage great feeling, with varied layouts that maintain interest and compliment the action throughout. This is a book about a true hero, inspiration and rare spirit, executed with a great and contagious affection and admiration for its subject. What child doesn’t feel different in some way, and wouldn’t be fortified by such a story? Read this, and you’ll be standing straight for an ovation for a truly outstanding picture book biography. (7 and up)

Also of interest:
Step right up, and see the four-year-old Charles Stratton, two feet tall and fifteen pounds, same as he was as a seven-month-old baby. Master promoter P.T. Barnum didn’t miss a beat when it came to recruiting Charles for his circus, making him very rich, awfully famous, and a symbiotic partner in Barnum’s travels and adventures. While it is hard to conceive of the relationship as anything but exploitative, the author does a commendable job at the task of truly putting Stratton’s position in the historical context of the 19th century, where life was difficult and often sad, and entertainment a rare commodity; "Tom Thumb" was an early modern celebrity. Lots of text is made palpable for young readers by virtue of wide leading (space) between the lines, and the scrapbook-like interspersion of photographs and ephemera, including etchings of Sullivan’s visit to the queen, and pictures of his bride Lavinia Bump and his other circus friends. Pages of source notes underscore primary sources, and a generous bibliography is also included. Interesting reading, sure to provoke discussion, and besides being an appealing choice for reluctant readers poring over the nonfiction shelves, this is an excellent pick for book clubs looking for a true story. (8 and up)

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