________________ CM . . . . Volume XX Number 6. . . .October 11, 2013


The Extraordinary Life of Anna Swan.

Anne Renaud.
Sydney, NS: Cape Breton University Press, 2013.
51 pp., pbk., $14.95.
ISBN 978-1-927492-37-6.

Subject Headings:
Swan, Anna, 1846-1888-Juvenile literature.
Giants-Nova Scotia-Biography-Juvenile literature.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Crystal Sutherland.

**** /4



When walking on the street she was constantly stopped and questioned about her height or even mocked. And while her aunt had her best interest at heart in providing her with a home while she pursued her studies, the house and all its furnishings were all much too small to accommodate Anna’s size, as was the desk at the Normal School.

With a heavy heart, Anna gave up on her dream of becoming a schoolteacher and asked her father to come fetch her with his horse and wagon. Anna returned to New Annan, but it would not be long before she would take to the road once again, one which would lead to fame and fortune.


The day Anna was born at her family home in Colchester County in 1846, her parents were, as all parents are, happy to have a healthy baby. News spreads quickly through small towns, and soon the community knew about the new addition to the Swan family. Her birth was, quite literally, big news; the newborn Anna weighed an astonishing 6 kilograms (13 pounds). Anna’s parents embraced her uniqueness and the many challenges it created.

internal art     Anna grew quickly, rapidly outgrowing her bed, shoes, clothes, and desk at school. Her parents, farmers without much money and several other children to care for, made sure every effort was made to keep Anna comfortable. When Anna’s desk at school was too small for her, her father came and altered it so she could focus on learning and not her discomfort. While Anna stood out at school and was at first teased by other students, her easy-going and kind personality quickly made her friends and silenced the teasing. Her love of learning and helping others learn led her to pursue a career in education. While attending the Normal School in Truro to train to become a teacher, she found adults were much less accepting of her differences, and she returned to her parents’ home without completing her teaching certificate. This, however, was far from the end of Anna’s adventures. P. T. Barnum was as well known, if not better known, in Anna’s time. A businessman from a neighbouring town visited P. T. Barnum in New York to tell him about Anna who he thought would be a perfect fit for Barnum’s American Museum which, along with many other subjects, had a space for oddities. Anna saw this as an opportunity to travel while being paid a very good wage. The decision to move to New York was easy, and Anna was treated with great respect at the museum where she posed and travelled around the world with other oddities, including the ‘living skeleton’, Tom Thumb who was 30” tall, compared to Anna’s 8’ (8’1” according to Barnum; he could never help exaggerating just a little), and Joseph the Great French Giant. Her job at P. T. Barnum’s American Museum allowed her to travel, make money to send home to help her family, meet the Queen of England, and find love.

      On opening the cover of The Extraordinary Life of Anna Swan, readers are greeted by a sepia photo of the smiling giantess. From the very beginning, it’s impossible not to love Anna, and her story will inspire readers to both look past the differences of people they meet, and to embrace their own differences. Printed so the paper looks aged, and filled with beautiful photographs and news clippings, The Extraordinary Life of Anna Swan is stunningly designed.

      Anne Renaud’s passion for her subject comes through in her writing. Her writing is clear, as is her admiration of Anna Swan. Broken into short chapters, the book can be read from cover to cover, or a chapter here and there. It’s difficult to imagine anyone not wanting to read the entire book once they have been introduced to Anna. The glossary, timeline, and bibliography at the back of the book add great value to the book, as do the numerous images, captions, and sidebars throughout the book.

      While the target age group for The Extraordinary Life of Anna Swan is grades 5-8, I am positive readers of all ages would enjoy reading about Anna.

Highly Recommended.

Crystal Sutherland is a librarian in Halifax, NS.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364
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