Stand Straight, Ella Kate

written by Kate Klise
illustrated by M. Sarah Klise

Kate Klise's Stand Straight, Ella Kate
illustrated by M. Sarah Klise

Book review by Sherri Trudgian

Ages 4-8

Awkwardness turned to opportunity!

“Stand up straight!” At five foot eight and three quarters inches myself, I heard this phrase repeated ad nausea growing up and passed the blessing on to my own daughter.

“Most tall tales are made up. But my tall tale is true …” In Kate Klise’s Stand Straight, Ella Kate, we learn about a true life giant.

The year was 1872. Few people from Rainbow Missouri took any notice of the new baby Ella Kate Ewing. However, once Ella Kate turned seven she became the focus of the county’s attention. You see Ella Kate was different. She started to grow at an ever increasing rate and didn’t stop until she reached a final height of eight feet four inches.

A true story written from a first person perspective, we not only see the cruelty Ella Kate had to endure but we feel her pain. Every child wants to fit in. When her father is forced to build a special desk for school Ella Kate felt embarrassed and decided that she just didn’t fit the world. Her mother couldn’t sew dresses fast enough and finally had to simply add new fabrics onto her hem. Ella Kate’s mother and father loved their daughter and encouraged her to stand straight, be proud and not hunch. But what young girl wants to stand tall when her dress looks like a patchwork quilt?

Ella Kate is excited when offered the opportunity to recite the “Declaration of Independence” at the county fair. However, she ends up running off stage in tears when she hears the laughing taunts of “hands as big as skillets’ and “tall as a barn!”

Pearl is Ella Kate’s one faithful friend at school. She of course is petite and is considered beautiful in Ella Kate’s eyes. Pearl wants to protect Ella Kate from the teasing and suggests that the two friends run away together.

When Ella Kate turns seventeen a gentleman makes her an offer to appear at his museum in Chicago. Thus, Ella Kate starts out on a remarkable journey which makes her very rich. She becomes quite a business woman earning one thousand dollars a month. She not only pays off the mortgage on her parents’ farm but also purchases property for herself and builds a custom-sized house.

This “Gentle Giantess” took the opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons. She not only amassed a fortune when most women of the era remained in the home but she also was able to travel across the United States and Canada. Was it hard? Yes! She talks about being jabbed with pins because people wanted to test her legs to see if they were real.

Kate Klise closes off the book with a note about Ella’s condition which is known today as “gigantism”.

Stand Straight, Ella Kate

M. Sarah Klise (Kate’s sister) illustrated Ella Kate’s story in a folk art style with acrylic paints. She painted from the audience’s perspective making our heroine appear even taller. The reader is constantly looking up to see Ella Kate in a tree, on a chair touching the ceiling or up on stage. Her tiny cradle also appears in several illustrations emphasizing the huge contrast between the baby and the young girl. Using the inside of the book covers, Sarah gives readers the fun opportunity of comparing their own shoe and hand sizes with that of Ella Kate.

Although written for four to eight year olds, Stand Straight, Ella Kate is an inspiring story for girls of all ages. Ella Kate took a chance. She was a pioneer who opened up a new path for women. Ella Kate Ewing demonstrated that a female from middle America had the ability to earn her own income and travel. What makes her story even more inspiring is that she did it all before women had the right to vote.

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