Tom Thumb: The Remarkable True Story of a Man in Miniature
by George Sullivan
Published by Clarion Books
When Charles S. Stratton was born in 1838, he was a large baby, perfect in every way. But then he stopped growing. At age four, though a happy and mischievous child, he was just over two feet tall and weighed only fifteen pounds--the exact same size he had been as a seven-month-old baby. It was then that the notorious showman P.T. Barnum dubbed him Tom Thumb and put him on display, touring him around the world as a curiosity. A natural performer, Charley became enormously popular and wealthy, more so than any other performer before him. In this spirited biography--the first on its subject--George Sullivan recounts the fascinating adventures of Tom Thumb, and raises challenging questions about what constitutes exploitation--both in the 19th century and today.
Not having been previously familiar with Charles Stratton's (aka Tom Thumb) story, I was soon enthralled and read it on my computer in just a couple of sittings. I like that, overall, Sullivan doesn't talk down to his young audience, writing instead with sophistication. There are a couple of rare (and pretty minor) exceptions, like on page 49 where he mentions that Apollo was a major Greek god, instead of just saying that he was the Greek ideal of manly beauty.
Reading on the full-size monitor gave me a sense of the full-size book; the size and spacing of the text and the placement of the images. Reading this way made it obvious that the book is intended for a young audience. I later re-read it on a 7 inch nook screen, where text size and spacing became meaningless and I focused more on the content. Reading this way, I became aware that people of all ages could read the ebook without ever thinking about the "intended" audience.
I did relish all the photographs. Particularly fascinating are pictures of some of the other performers (circa p. 58) who lived and worked at Barnum's museum with Stratton, and the pictures of him in various costumes (circa p. 75). I found it intriguing that while Charles (or Charley to family and friends) and his cohorts may have been exploited, they were also sometimes given opportunities that they wouldn't have had otherwise. Charley, for instance, learns to read and travels the world. He also meets other dwarfs like himself, and eventually marries.
I like the design of the book overall. I thought the image of Stratton on the cover was a cartoon at first, but later realized that it's a reproduction of a photograph that has been colorized. If I have one wish it is just that the cover would look less cartoony. In addition to all the wonderful black and white photographs, the interior pages are decorated with 19th century patterns and flourishes in shades of gray.
Source notes and a bibliography are appended. The notes are organized by chapter, and include page references to quotes and articles included in the bibligoraphy. The bibligraphy includes works by Stratton's wife, Lavinia, and by friends Sylvester Bleeker and Barnum as well as books and articles about the period in general. There will be an index, however, it wasn't included in the advanced reading copy.
Disclosure: This blog post is based on the reading of an advanced reading copy received through NetGalley.