Friday Book Whimsy: The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb: A Novel

I will be completely honest here. I didn’t even know that Tom Thumb was a real person. As far as I knew, Tom Thumb was no more than the character in a book of old fairy tales that was on the bottom shelf of our bookshelf when I was growing up. So I certainly didn’t know that there was a Mrs. Tom Thumb.

Author Melanie Benjamin has fictionalized the life stories of a number of famous people, including Anne Morrow Lindbergh (the wife of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, and herself an author and aviator) in The Aviator’s Wife;  and Hollywood legends Mary Pickford and Frances Marion in The Girls in the Picture. Benjamin seems to do a very good job of researching her characters, at least based on the information I gleaned from Wikipedia as a read The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb: A Novel.

Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump was born in Massachusetts in 1841. She was one of two daughters born to loving parents. She was exceptional in that she was 2.66 feet tall and weighed 29 lbs. as an adult. She was what is referred to as a proportionate dwarf, meaning that while extremely small, her extremities were proportionate to her size. Her sister Minnie was even tinier.

It being the mid-1800s, opportunities for all women were scarce, and for a woman the size of a large doll, the prospects would seem to be even direr. Nevertheless, she became a teacher, and was quite successful. And yet, she was bored with her life. Her desire to travel took her down an unfortunate road until she met the famed showman P.T. Barnum. Barnum had already made a very successful career for Charles Sherwood Stratton, better known as General Tom Thumb, and also a proportionate dwarf.

The two eventually fell in love and married, in what was the wedding of the year in New York City. The story of their fame, their career, their relationship to Barnum, and their life in the spotlight was ABSOLUTELY FASCINATING. I simply couldn’t put the book down. I was grateful to be reading the novel as an e-book because I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I stopped to look up some information about Lavinia Warren (which became her stage name), Gen. Tom Thumb, P.T. Barnum, and the other performers who they loved like family. The most amazing thing about their lives was how their fame allowed them to rub shoulders with high society in 1900 New York City.

I read the book just before seeing the The Greatest Showman – the movie about P.T. Barnum – and it was fun to be familiar with some of the characters in that movie.

I heartily recommend The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb: A Novel. While it is important to keep in mind that it is fiction, the book was wonderfully researched and incredibly readable.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Don’t Know Much About History

My blog audience knows by now that I love mysteries. At the end of the year, if I look at the list of books I have read, more than half are probably mysteries. And the ones that aren’t often will have a mystery element to them. Like who is the crazy woman in the attic in Jane Eyre?

But the other genre of books that I love is historical fiction. I love to learn about history via a fictional story. I wish, for example, that I had read the whole series of Henry VIII books by Philippa Gregory prior to our visit to England in 1993. That trip took place more than 20 years after I studied World History, and I thought “Henry VIII” was a song by Herman and the Hermits.

I have given some thought to the best historical novels I have read in the past couple of years, and I’m not ready to commit that the following are the five best historical novels I’ve ever read. But they are five really good novels from which I learned a lot about an historical event.

So, in no order…..

other bolelyn (2)Moloka’i by Alan Brennert is the story of a young Hawaiian girl who contracts leprosy and is sent to a leper colony on the island of Moloka’i. I know the plot sounds depressing, but it simply wasn’t. It was a heartwarming story about love. I learned that the island of Moloka’i actually did have a leper colony located on it, and it was where Father (Saint) Damian worked with lepers for years in the 1800s before he, himself, died of leprosy. It was wonderful to learn about this amazing man, though he certainly wasn’t the focus of the story but only a bit player. Moloka’i is one of my favorite books of all time.

other bolelyn (1)The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory was the first book I ever read by this author. The book was riveting, and got me hooked on reading all of the books about Henry’s bevy of wives and mistresses. The Other Boleyn Girl tells the story of Anne, Mary, and George Boleyn and their strange relationship through the eyes of Mary, who was Henry’s first Boleyn love and led to the infamous and unfortunate relationship with her sister Anne. Seemingly decently researched and definitely well-written.

orphan trainOrphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is an excellent story about an event in history I knew absolutely nothing about. Apparently in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, orphans from the East Coast were sent by train to the Midwest where they would be adopted by families to work on the farms or in the businesses. Orphan Train is the story of one of these orphans, now an elderly woman, who befriends a young orphan girl, tied by their backgrounds. Good writing, but mostly just an interesting story.

true sistersTrue Sisters by Sandra Dallas, is the story of four Morman women who move from their homes in Iowa City (one coming from as far away as England) across the plains and over the Rocky Mountains to Salt Lake City, on foot, pushing handcarts carrying all of their worldly goods. You can only imagine the obstacles they faced. Again, while I knew that Mormans moved from Iowa and Illinois to Salt Lake City, this particular mode of transportation was new to me. A beautiful story of friendship by one of my favorite authors (and not just because she lives in Denver!).

aviatorThe Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin is the story of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the wife of Charles Lindbergh. Though the story is about Anne, the reader learns a lot about aviation and about the famous Charles Lindbergh (who, in my mind, was half cray-cray). The story of the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby is particularly well-told and interesting.

Oh, what the heck, for good measure…..

inventionThe Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd is the story of Sarah Grimke and her sister Angelina, feminists before anyone even remotely conceived of the word. But it is also the story of slavery as told in a secondary storyline about a fictional slave girl. The writing is beautiful and the story was amazing – both glorious and horrifying. A wonderful read.

And there you have it folks, six historical novels that should be on your bookshelf or in your electronic reader.