Friday, March 8, 2013

"Have You Seen Tom Thumb?", by Mabel Leigh Hunt

This was another book that I'd prejudged by its title, assuming it to be a fairy tale.  I was actually really glad to see that it's a biography (although the Newbery biographies have been a mixed bag). 

Tom Thumb is about the life of Charles Sherwood Stratton of Bridgeport, Connecticut.  Astoundingly short, he is engaged as a performer by P.T. Barnum at the young age of just five years.  Because of the success of his performances, "Tom" continues to work for Barnum into early adulthood, and again when his beloved patron falls on hard times.  We also read of his brief courtship and marriage before his early death from a stroke.

This is exactly the sort of book I would have loved when I was younger.  It tells the tale of an unusual and fascinating person that most people have never even heard of.  As a children's biography, it's just right.  However, as an adult, I found that the book was written with a great deal of showmanship, with so much description of costumes and venues and accessories that one gains very little sense of what our title character is actually like.  This is probably somewhat from necessity, though- because his every public venture was surrounded by PR, it is doubtful that many primary sources exist that could tell us.

With all of the recent outcry against the word "midget" (and especially here in Rhode Island) it's worth mentioning that this is the label ascribed to General Tom Thumb in this book.  At the time, it was the correct term for a person with his particular variety of dwarfism.

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