Children's Literature - Mary Quattlebaum
Little Marcel grows up in Strasbourg, on the border between France and Germany, fascinated with the silent film star Charlie Chaplin. He, too, wants to use only his gestures and the medium of silence to make people laugh and cry. But Hitler intervenes when the boy is 16, and Marcel becomes part of the French Resistance, helping to forge identification cards for Jewish children and even leading small groups, dressed as boy scouts, to safety in Switzerland. At the end of World War II, Marcel is able to study the ancient art of mimeand for the next sixty years performs around the world. This whimsical biography, with its dark notes of oppression and war, reminds readers of the power of dreams and the importance of practice and persistence. Reviewer: Mary Quattlebaum
School Library Journal
Gr 2–5—Readers are introduced to the world-famous reviver of the lost art of mime in this attractive and accessible picture-book biography. Melding Marceau's childhood and evolution as an artist with world events, Spielman reveals how the young son of a kosher butcher in Strasbourg, France, pursued his dream, despite the Nazi invasion in 1939. After his father took him to see a silent Charlie Chaplin film when he was five, "The boy was fascinated that the actor could make his audience laugh and cry without ever speaking a word. Marcel decided he would grow up to be like Charlie." After his city was evacuated, he and his older brother were sent to study art in Limoges, the center of the French Resistance. There, he used his artistic talent to doctor children's identification cards. He also led groups of Jewish children to the safety of the Swiss border; one illustration shows him with a group of young charges on a train singing heartily as a clueless Nazi soldier claps enthusiastically. After his father was sent to Auschwitz, he went to a children's home outside of Paris, where he taught art and drama. At age 20, a famous actor and director saw him perform and encouraged him to study drama. After the war, he perfected his trademark character, a role he played for the next 60 years. The final spread includes color and black-and-white photographs of the performer as Bip. Gauthier's childlike mixed-media illustrations feature myriad rosy-cheeked characters and capture both the whimsy of Marceau's performances and the more somber conditions of war-torn France.—Barbara Auerbach, PS 217, Brooklyn, NY
…as a read-aloud for older children who will tolerate the format, and with sufficient background information from those versed in the history, the book works, largely on the strength of its remarkable subject and striking visuals.
The New York Times
Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
As a child, Marcel Marceau enjoys dressing up and performing. A fan of silent movies, he remembers the magic of silence into adulthood. When World War I begins, he and his family must leave their Strasbourg home. Marcel studies art in Limoges, France. As the Nazis take over France and round up Jews, Marcel joins the Resistance and forges identity cards to save children. He also leads groups of children to safety in Switzerland. He continues to perform at a Children's Home. Spotted there, he is sent to study at a drama school, where he learns the almost forgotten art of mime. After the war, as the character Bip, he successfully revives the art of mime. Gautier's sketchy, mixed media illustrations exude innocence. The double-page scenes focus on the characters, and the background is illustrated sparingly. Two final pages show photographs of Bip in action and include explanatory notes that extend the story. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
The legendary mime is introduced to a new generation, though not entirely successfully.
As a child, Marceau loved to silently entertain his friends, like his idol, Charlie Chaplin. During the Nazi occupation of France, Marcel and his brother took on new identities in the French Underground, where they forged documents for Jewish children and helped many to escape to Switzerland. Spielman assumes that her young audience will understand references to deportation and concentration camps; unfortunately for those that don't, her matter-of-fact tone speaks more of adventure than deadly peril. Her tone subtly changes when she lovingly describes Marceau's training and development as a mime and his stage persona of Bip the clown, admiring his skills in the "art of silence" that won him international renown. But here too, comparisons to the Little Tramp and Pierrot may be outside readers' frame of reference. Though the illustrations carefully complement the textual content with period details, Gauthier's cartoon faces are all nearly identical, with only the screen image of Chaplin and Marceau's Bip having distinctive features. A double-page spread at the conclusion provides photographs of Bip in action and is the only clear indication of Marceau's stagecraft.
At its best when the emphasis is on the skill and artistry of Mime's most accomplished practitioner—alas, too much of the book looks elsewhere.(Picture book/biography. 8-10)