A small, illustrated biography of a giant woman.
Anna Swan was born in Nova Scotia in 1846, and an author’s note explains she likely had “a rare medical condition called pituitary gigantism” that caused her to grow to nearly 8 feet. The story is written in the first person, a dubious choice for biography, but the point of view infuses the narrative with a sense of intimacy. From her birth, Anna is a spectacle in her rural community, where her family is credited with accepting and protecting her. “All the more to love,” her parents are quoted as saying of her, though there’s no direct citation for this dialogue, nor for any other quotations in the book, which could exacerbate concerns about the book’s nonfiction credibility. The strong foundation Anna receives from them helps her confidently set out into the world with a man she calls Mr. Barnum, who includes her in his Gallery of Wonders with other people with unusual physiques. An unfortunate, insensitive simile likens two men with gigantism to “totem poles,” and a later introduction of Anna’s husband, Martin Van Buren Bates, calls him the “Kentucky Mountain Giant” but fails to mention he was a Confederate soldier. Despite these missteps, there’s much to admire in this tribute to Swan, not the least of which are detailed mixed-media illustrations; done with a delicate folk-art sensibility, they depict Anna and her world as an all-white one.
A spare telling of a big life. (Picture book/biography. 5-8)