Tom Thumb: The Remarkable True Story of a Man in Miniature

Overview

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, ...

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Heidi Hauser Green
Here is the story of a person George Sullivan calls the "nation's first celebrity," the proportionate dwarf Charles Stratton, who performed as part of P. T. Barnam's circus under the name "General Tom Thumb." Born in Connecticut at normal size, Stratton stopped growing in infancy. Although his condition was probably caused by a hormone deficiency that would be corrected medicinally today, at that time doctors had no treatment for him. His diminutive size did not hold Charles back; he was a reportedly mischievous child and his own sense of comfort with his size helped his parents come to feel more comfortable with it. At the age of four, Charles was the same height and weight he had been at seven months of age. It was then that Barnam, a distant relative, heard of the boy. He convinced Charles' mother to allow him to take the boy to New York City. Barnam taught Charles how to sing and dance; the act became so popular that the boy became quite wealthy. In adulthood, he would become a business partner to Barnam and even bail him out of a financial jam. Charles met heads of state but was admired by many. He met and married Lavinia Warren and married her in a lavish wedding that attracted 10,000 admirers. Sadly, in his mid-forties, Charles died of a stroke within weeks of surviving a horrific hotel fire. Readers will be intrigued by this sensitive account of Charles' life. The three CD set seems to provide a faithful account of the print edition. Reviewer: Heidi Hauser Green
School Library Journal - Audio
Gr 5–9—This is a fascinating biography of Charles Stratton, who stopped growing approximately six months after his birth in 1838. At the age of four, he met the famous showman, P.T. Barnum, who quickly convinced the small child's parents to move the boy to New York to join Barnum's American Museum. Dubbed Tom Thumb by Barnum, Charles quickly became a hit. Intelligent and a natural showman Tom Thumb readily responded to Barnum's tutelage, transforming into an engaging and extremely popular entertainer in New York and abroad. Just over two feet tall, he became an international sensation, traveling to Europe multiple times. After his marriage to Lavinia Warren, the couple and their troupe traveled the world engaging audiences. This presentation captures the challenges Tom faced and also celebrates the life of a 19th-century superstar. Barry Press's excellent narration provides each character in Sullivan's book (Clarion, 2011) with a uniquely recognizable and appropriate voice, and he varies his tone so that listeners can clearly distinguish when primary sources are being quoted. His perfect pacing will keep listeners fully engaged. Have the print version available so students can peruse the photos and period illustrations and period photos. A winning presentation.—Deanna Romriell, Salt Lake City Public Library, UT
Publishers Weekly
This engaging biography centers on "the nation's first celebrity," legendary dwarf Charles Stratton (aka General Tom Thumb), as well as showman P.T. Barnum, who created his persona. Following high-profile exhibition flops like the "Fejee Mermaid," Barnum found redemption through four-year-old Stratton, who was only two feet tall yet perfectly proportional. His mother, after initial objections, traveled to New York with her son, where Barnum encouraged him to act older and taught him to perform. Engrossing b&w photographs and illustrations convey Stratton's rising affluence and celebrity: his wedding to another performing dwarf, Lavinia Warren, attracted crowds, and the couple's notoriety spread as far as India and Australia. Sullivan (Berenice Abbott, Photographer) sensitively portrays Stratton's personal identity struggles ("I love to watch children play," he once remarked. "I never had much childhood") and addresses Stratton's unfulfilled desire to become a more versatile actor. While Sullivan touches on the subject of exploitation and the limited understanding of dwarfism in Stratton's era, his subject emerges not as a victim but as an individual whose talents earned him the public's admiration and a place in history. Ages 10–14. (Feb.)
From the Publisher
"Well organized and clearly written, this solid biography offers a vivid portrayal of Stratton and makes a strong case for Tom Thumb as America’s first celebrity."—Booklist, starred review

"Tom's personal and professional relationships with Barnum make this biography a superb complement to Candace Fleming's The Great and Only Barnum (2009)."—Kirkus

"While Sullivan touches on the subject of exploitation and the limited understanding of dwarfism in Stratton's era, his subject emerges not as a victim but as an individual whose talents earned him the public's admiration and a place in history."— Publishers Weekly

"Sullivan does a commendable job of placing his biographical subject in the context of his times (nearly the whole of the nineteenth century), bringing both to life in an engaging text complemented with black-and-white photographs."—The Horn Book

VOYA - Nancy Pierce
Little person Charles (Charley) Stratton of Bridgeport, Connecticut, is "transformed" into Tom Thumb, entertainer extraordinaire and protege of the famous showman P. T. Barnum. The author recounts the journey of Charley as son from a middle class family to one of the most famous people in the country and guest of European royalty. Charley becomes rich through his appearances and provides his family a comfortable life. Along the way, he gets married to another little person and presumably lives a comfortable, happy life. We also discover how amusement in the 1800s centered on live entertainment, which included the exotic (animals from faraway lands), "made freaks" (people with tattoos covering most of their body, for example), and "born freaks," such as extremely tall, thin, or overweight individuals, conjoined twins, and obviously people like "Tom Thumb." The author does a good job illustrating what was considered acceptable reactions to those who did not fit into what society would consider "normal"; these people were openly and without hesitation called "freaks" and were used as entertainment and open to ridicule, behavior which is not accepted by most today. Charley, it seems, is more "accepted" because he is perfectly proportioned, just significantly smaller than most people. He is afforded better treatment than the other "freaks" whether they are made or born. Young people will be interested in Charley's story and will learn some social and cultural history of the United States in the 1800s, but they will not learn how Tom felt about being an "oddity," how even though he became wealthy, he was still an outsider. Reviewer: Nancy Pierce
Children's Literature - Mary Bowman-Kruhm Ed.D.
Charles S. Stratton took on the persona of Tom Thumb when he was hired by mastermind entertainment entrepreneur P. T. Barnum. Only four years old, Charles was just slightly over two feet tall and weighed a mere fifteen pounds. Thanks to the enterprising Barnum and to his own love of performing, Tom Thumb became arguably one of the first international entertainers in an era when word of mouth and newspapers were the primary means of publicity. By the age of nine (although Barnum always advertised him as six years older than he was), he had won over everyone from Queen Victoria and other heads of state to average citizens. He travelled the world and drew thousands of people at every public appearance, including his 1863 marriage to Lavinia, another little person. Sullivan sets the fascinating story of Tom Thumb in historical context, detailing significant events of the 1800s, including the Civil War. Additionally important is the message that, in an era when people who were disabled or different were seen as freaks, Tom Thumb was admired as an individual and well respected. Black-and-white photos are well chosen and page design captures the essence of the era, while backmatter includes notes with citations and reference list. Highly recommended for leisure reading or as supplemental reading for history classrooms. Reviewer: Mary Bowman-Kruhm, Ed.D.
School Library Journal
Gr 5–9—A talented performer and charming celebrity, Charles S. Stratton, born in 1838 in Bridgeport, CT, began his career at the tender age of five. Around his first birthday, Charley's parents noticed that he had stopped growing at 25 inches long and 15 pounds, and their doctor soon confirmed that their son would be a little person into adulthood. As a preschooler, Charley embraced his size, reveling in the attention he attracted and making friends all over town. His relationships and reputation landed him on the radar of P. T. Barnum who, with dollar signs in his eyes, convinced Charley's parents to bring the boy to New York City for a four-week display at his American Museum. Although Barnum lied about Charley's age and nationality to sell tickets, the Strattons decided to trust him with their son, now known by his stage name, General Tom Thumb. From his first performance, Tom's career took off and years of touring both in the U.S. and abroad followed. Presented by Sullivan with respect and admiration, Tom is shown as a complex person with sincere struggles and desires outside the spotlight. Extensive notes are provided for the quotes found throughout the text, though they do not always point to primary-source material. The many period photographs and illustrations that fill out the narrative will fascinate readers.—Heather Acerro, Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, IN
Kirkus Reviews

Long before the Internet, 24-hour news cycles and social networking, the 25-inch-tall General Tom Thumb was a household name in both the United States and Europe. Tom owed his celebrity and wealth to the marketing genius of master showman P.T. Barnum. This lively biography chronicles the remarkable life and career of Charles Sherwood Stratton, who was recruited by Barnum when he was 5 years old and rechristened General Tom Thumb. Under Barnum's tutelage, Tom learned skills that led him to become an accomplished entertainer. Not all of Barnum's influences were positive. "At five, Tom...was drinking wine with meals. At seven, he smoked cigars. By nine, he chewed tobacco. He never had a day of school."Sullivan notes that for a "human oddity" like Tom, there were few choices other than show business. (Regrettably, the author misses this opportunity to further explore the ethics of this sort of exploitation.) Tom was no ordinary sideshow attraction, appearing before Queen Victoria twice and becoming the toast of high society. He also enjoyed a happy marriage and his fame and fortune to the end of his eventful life. Tom's personal and professional relationships with Barnum make this biography a superb complement to Candace Fleming'sThe Great and Only Barnum(2009). (endnotes, bibliography, index)(Biography. 10-14)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781935430902
  • Publisher: Audio Bookshelf
  • Publication date: 10/1/2012
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged

Meet the Author

George Sullivan is a best-selling nonfiction author with more than 100 books to his credit, including highly accoladed Berenice Abbott, Photographer. He lives in New York City.

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