Stacy Carlson’s debut novel is set in P.T. Barnum’s American Museum.
I can’t introduce this book without mentioning another: The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P.T. Barnum by Candace Fleming (Schwartz & Wade, 2009). Before I read it I knew next to nothing about the American Museum, and I cannot imagine a better introduction. This is one of those books that appeals to any age. Yes, it is written for a young teen, but it is so engaging and informative, and its subject matter so naturally appealing, that I hand it to older teens and adults too.
I was especially struck by the fact that Barnum kept his own office in the Museum. He was a sort of exhibit or oddity himself. His fame was such that museum goers would stop and watch him work or hope to engage him in conversation as he mingled in the exhibits.
Now, here is a novel that brings this world, its people, setting and time period, to life.
CARLSON, Stacy. Among the Wonderful. 464p. Steerforth. 2011. Tr $24.99. ISBN 978-1-58642-184-7. LC number unavailable.
Adult/High School–Many teens have heard of P.T. Barnum and his circus (and his “there’s a sucker born every minute” motto) but how many know about his American Museum? In this book, which is based on the real American Museum and told from the viewpoints of several characters, readers can step into the world of early 19th-century New York and experience it for themselves. The two main characters are Emile Galliadeu, a taxidermist “inherited” by Barnum when he purchased the existing museum from John Scudder, who established it to highlight the best in American wildlife and fauna; and Ana Swift, a professional giantess. The tensions between the old-fashioned scientific method (as espoused by Galliadeu) and the weird and wonderful (Swift) are highlighted as Barnum continues to collect items–and people–from around the world. Imagine opening a crate and seeing a stuffed animal, one foot long, with “a dense coat… round head… tail like a beavers… but rounded… [feet] fully webbed”; living on a museum floor that contains a tank for a beluga whale and houses Indians, a bearded lady, another giant; and battling and drunken Siamese twins. That’s the world of the American Museum. This book will appeal to those interested in Barnum, taxidermy, “freak” shows, and life in 1840s New York City. Readers should also go to CUNY’s American Museum webpage to visit the exhibits, at http://chnm.gmu.edu/lostmuseum/lm/163/.— Laura Pearle, Venn Consultants, Carmel, NY