________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 10. . . .November 6, 2015


Elephant Man.

Mariangela Di Fiore. Illustrated by Hilde Hodnefjeld. Translated by Rosie Hedger.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2015.
52 pp., hardcover, html & pdf, $19.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55451-778-7 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-55451-779-4 (html), ISBN 978-1-55451-780-0 (pdf).

Subject Heading:
Merrick, Joseph, 1862-1890-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 4 and up / Ages 9 and up.

Review by Gregory Bryan and Andrea Boyd.

***½ /4


Joseph hadn’t always looked this way. When he was born, he looked like any other baby. His mother held him close and thought he was the most beautiful child she had ever seen. But when Joseph was only a few years old, something unusual happened to him. He started to smell unpleasant, and large, crumpled lumps made his mouth feel heavy and change shape, and it became difficult for him to speak properly. He lost the ability to smile and could no longer make different facial expressions. His feet and one hand grew swollen, his head became unnaturally large, and from his forehead grew what looked like the start of a trunk.


Joseph Carey Merrick died in London on 11 April 1890. Over a century later, his astonishing story remains a fascinating, inspiring, and educational monument to his short life. Merrick was only 27 years of age when he died, but the story of the so-called Elephant Man endures. Joseph Merrick (1862-1890) is believed to have been afflicted by neurofibromatosis type 1 and Proteus syndrome. Both diseases are genetic mutations that caused the disfigurement of his head and body. The new Annick Press book, Elephant Man, is a powerful and moving introduction to Joseph Merrick. It is suitable for an audience ranging up from mature upper elementary children.

     The book was originally published in Norwegian in 2013. Rosie Hedger provided the English translation of Mariangela Di Fiore’s text. Hilde Hodnefjeld’s mixed media and collage illustrations include the use of archival photographs that make it clear that Merrick was, indeed, a real person and that his life story is that of real suffering, yet eventual triumph. The mix of photographs and drawings is visually interesting. The artwork is heavily textured and even “grainy” in appearance. It features minimal and muted colours and, with these qualities, is somewhat suggestive of an old movie—perhaps a nod towards the black-and-white 1980 movie The Elephant Man. Alternatively, on certain pages there is the suggestion of a scrapbook in which have been pasted photographs and letters from Merrick.

     As a classroom resource, teachers might find it useful for discussions around diversity, acceptance, and bullying. It also could be used to demonstrate how the entertainment industry has evolved over time. What once passed for amusement would today (hopefully) be considered entirely inappropriate.

     Merrick endures loneliness, bullying, ridicule, and rejection to the point that his only option is to join a so-called Freak Show and travel throughout Europe to raise money upon which to survive. Sadly, however, even that demeaning career is of no value because he is robbed of his proceeds by his unscrupulous manager. Eventually, however, a kindly English doctor lends purpose and dignity to Merrick’s life as the two form friendship.

     The Elephant Man is a powerful biography. Children and adults will find much here to hold their interest. We recommend this book highly.

Highly Recommended.

Dr. Gregory Bryan is a member of the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba. He specialises in literature for children.

Andrea Boyd is an Early Years teacher candidate in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba.

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

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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