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  • 2011 Comstock Read Aloud Book Award

    Stand Straight, Ella Kate: The True Story of a Real Giant written by Kate Klise, illustrated by M. Sarah Klise and published by Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Group, 2010.

    Stand Straight, Ella KateIn this fictionalized biography, Ella Kate Ewing tells her own story about growing up to be a “real, live giant.” By age seventeen, Ella Kate was eight feet tall. Even though her parents wanted to protect her, she decides to accept a job from a museum manager in Chicago. He advertises her as “the tallest lady on earth.” Ella Kate made so much money that she paid off the debt on her family farm and built a house where she could stand straight. In the late 1800’s, she lived the life of an independent woman, making appearances around the country in exhibitions, traveling circuses, and even the world’s fair. “Stand straight, Ella Kate,” a saying she learned from her parents, became her mantra. Born in 1872, Ella Kate died in 1913 at the age of forty. An author’s note at the end of the book provides further information, including a description of the disorder “gigantism.” Ella Kate continues to be known in her home state of Missouri as the “Gentle Giantess.”

    The book’s vertical trim size perfectly fits the subject. The muted acrylic illustrations provide details of the time period and aptly depict Ella Kate’s special abilities. Several teachers commented on the endpapers. A third grade teacher wrote: “The endpapers caused the real stir. Things like the size of Ella Kate’s shoes and gloves really got the children talking. They all wanted to compare their hands to hers.”

    This book was popular with students from ages nine through twelve. Children were very attentive during the read aloud sessions and were inspired to ask questions and add comments. Fourth graders noted: “It was touching—how her life turned out positively despite a rough start.” One sixth grade teacher commented that the story led to a good discussion about differences and that he planned to recommend the book to the school’s social worker.

    The author and illustrator, who are sisters, grew up in Peoria, Illinois. Kate Klise now lives on a farm near Norwood, Missouri, and M. Sarah Klise resides in Berkeley, California. CAROL HANSON SIBLEY