Di Fiore colors history with imagined scenes to humanize a man the world knew as the Elephant Man.
Joseph Merrick, introduced mid–freak show in present tense, would rather have made people laugh than scream. Instead, severe disfigurement forced him to perform in freak shows as the Elephant Man, named for the heavy lumps growing on his skin. In past tense, the author simply recounts Merrick's journey through illness and exploitation to self-acceptance, courtesy of the compassionate Dr. Frederick Treves. The author personalizes Merrick's story by imagining his reactions to being ostracized, ogled by onlookers and medical students, and smiled at by a beautiful woman; his plausible sadness, joy, and loneliness promote empathy rather than pity. Hodnefjeld's drawings respect but soften Merrick's figure, in contrast to unflinching archival photographs of his body. The eye-catching blend of photographs and line drawings, including photographed heads on drawn bodies, offers glimpses of both Merrick's time and his life. An afterword explains how Merrick died as well as the probable cause of his deformity: Proteus syndrome. A photo reconstruction suggests what Merrick might have looked like without his disease, recalling a wish he expressed in poetry: "Could I create myself anew / I would not fail in pleasing you."
This compassionate summary of Joseph Merrick's life shows young readers that people can be "measured by the soul" rather than appearances. (bibliography) (Historical fiction. 8-10)