Books Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2012 Paranormal and Carnivale Picture Book Challenge 2012 Picture Books Reading Themes

Nonfiction Monday: A Not-so-tall-tale “Stand Straight, Ella Kate: The True Story of a Real Giant” by the Klise Sisters

I love how our bimonthly themes are leading us to stories that we would not have otherwise discovered. With our Circus, Carnivale, and Paranormal Twists theme for January-February, it isn’t that easy to look for nonfiction picture books that would kind of connect with that theme.

Poster courtesy of our treasured Iphigene

I am glad to have found Stand Straight, Ella Kate: The True Story of a Real Giant as told by Kate Klise and illustrated by M. Sarah Klise by sheer stroke of luck in our community library. It’s a perfect contribution for Nonfiction Monday which is hosted this week by Shelf-employed.

Ella Kate, the Gentle Giantess. Ella Ewing was born in 1872 in a place called Rainbow, Missouri. I did not even know about her until I opened this book from the Klise sisters. The picture book was written using Ella Kate’s voice, giving a different kind of nuance to the entire narrative.

It was only until Ella Kate was seven years old when she started growing at “a most startling rate.”

Mama couldn’t sew dresses fast enough to keep up. So she started adding fabric to the bottom of my favorite dress.

“Stand straight, Ella Kate,” Mama said when she was fixing my hem. But when Mama wasn’t looking, I hunched my back so I’d look smaller.

Ella Ewing with her mother. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

The reader also gets to see how Ella’s father would build a big desk for her in school so that she could fit her long legs under her desk. By age thirteen, she stood almost six feet tall. Towering at 8’4″ the doctors at the time were unaware of Ella Kate’s condition known as gigantism, a gland disorder. A Note from the Author found at the end of the book shared a few facts about Ella’s condition and the emotional distress that she suffered because of it. Kate Klise was also able to touch a chord in my heart as she spoke using Kate’s voice in the book:

My best friend was a girl named Pearl. Just like her name, Pearl was small and beautiful. When I got teased at recess on account of my size, Pearl suggested we run away.

“We’ll hide you in a secret place where no one can find you,” Pearl said. 

She was only trying to be nice. But where could I hide? I was too big for everything.

I was too big for the world.

Finding Refuge in our Oddities and Strangenesses. Determined to shield Ella from a world that despises, taunts, and ridicules that which it does not understand, her parents decided to let her remain home after an untoward incident during their big Fourth of July Celebration in school when Ella Kate was chosen to recite the Declaration of Independence:

I practiced for weeks. When it was time, I walked out on stage and began to recite the famous words. But I stopped cold when I heard voices from the crowd.

“Would you look at that girl? cried one man. She’s as tall as a barn!”

“Her hands are as big as skillets,” laughed a woman.

“I’ll tell you what that girl is,” yelled a boy. “She’s a freak!”

I ran off the stage in tears.

My heart broke as I read those lines, imagining the pain she must have felt. Amidst the taunting and the humiliation, Ella’s parents would constantly remind her to “Stand Straight, Ella Kate.”

Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

Things started to change for Ella Kate when a man who managed a museum in Chicago visited their farm, offering to pay good money for Ella Kate to simply stand tall, wear long dresses, and adopt a serious expression for seven hours a day while people stared at her. Initially, her father was fuming mad at the thought of total strangers gawking at his daughter, but Ella Kate decided to accept the job. And this literally changed her world.

At age eighteen, she left home to stand tall and proud in a museum and made a thousand dollars in a month: “Which was a whole lot of money in 1890. Back then you could buy twelve pencils and a bottle of ink for a dime.”

Left photo courtesy of Our Miss Ella – pg 267 This photo is on loan at the Downing Museum by Nancy and Larry Platz. Right photo courtesy of Gorin Centennial Book – pg 46 Miss Ella Ewing and her parents, Benjamin and Annie Ewing, taken around 1896. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

This was the beginning of Ella Kate’s journeys. She returned to Chicago in 1891 and started travelling the country for the next six years.

Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

As Kate Klise noted in her Author’s Note:

At a time when most people traveled very little and women did not enjoy even the right to vote, Ella was both famous and financially independent. Between tours, she always returned home and shared her experiences with friends who could only dream of seeing the things Ella had seen. Ella’s house became the social center of her county.

Ella Kate's house - custom built for her - fruits of her labor indeed. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

Thus, Ella Kate was able to transform her shame into glory and her pain into a celebration of her very being.

… the more I saw of the world, the more I wanted to see. Because as big as I was, the world was so much bigger. And I intended to see it all.

Let Your Freak Flag Fly. As I was reading the book, I was struck at how contrasting our experiences are. I stand four feet eight on flats. And while it was difficult for me when I was younger, I now celebrate my pixieness and fairy height in all its glory. The song that was running through my head as I was reading the book was Shrek’s Let your freak flag fly. My family and I watched the play Shrek, the Musical at the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco a year ago, and this particular song is what I enjoyed the most. Seemed fitting for this lovely ‘not-so-tall-tale.’

Here is another video clip, this one on Ella Ewing.

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge: 1 of 12

PictureBook Challenge Update: 11 of 120

Stand Straight, Ella Kate: The True Story of a Real Giant by Kate Klise and Pictures by M. Sarah Klise. Dial Books for Young Readers: An imprint of Penguin Group (USA), Inc, 2010. Book borrowed from the community library. Book photos were taken by me.

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

9 comments on “Nonfiction Monday: A Not-so-tall-tale “Stand Straight, Ella Kate: The True Story of a Real Giant” by the Klise Sisters

  1. Myra, like your nonfiction day. What a wonderful story about Ella Kate. I’ve never heard this story before and you did a lovely job of reviewing the story. I loved Let Your Freak Flag Fly is such a great song and perfect for your review. And, I enjoyed the video showing the love of a mother for her daughter. What an inspiring story. Like you, I’m vertically challenged.


  2. Myra – Thanks for joining in on the Nonfiction Picture Book Reviews. Review links can be added on the Wednesday posts. I’ll add the link for this one to my January 18th post. Thanks – Aly (Kid Lit Frenzy)


  3. I’d love to read this book. I’ve been looking at some very tall people this week – playing tennis at the Australian open, and there is something quite amazing about people who tower above.


  4. Oh, it is easy to wish we were taller, isn’t it? (I’m 5’2″.) It’s probably much easier to be shorter than to be very tall. Excellent post, and great job at pulling together all of the themes!


  5. Thanks for participating in Nonfiction Monday. I reviewed this one last year. I enjoy the works of the Klise sisters.


  6. Tammy Flanders

    Sounds like a great human-interest story. Thanks for the recommendation.
    Apples with Many Seeds


  7. Myra, what an unusual story, about which I too knew nothing! It started out so tragically I was prepared for the worst. Her mother’s love was a powerful sustainer in her life. I loved the line … “the more I saw of the world, the more I wanted to see. Because as big as I was, the world was so much bigger. And I intended to see it all.” This shows such wise perception of her own life and the enormity and strangeness of our world! Great find!


  8. Pingback: List of Circus, Carnivale, Paranormal Themed Books for All Ages «

  9. Pingback: [BHE 183] Singapore Library Warehouse Sale 2015 | Gathering Books

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