Marcel Marceau: Master of Mime

Gloria Spielman (Author) Manon Gauthier (Illustrator)


From the age of five, Marcel Marceau knew he wanted to be a silent actor, just like Charlie Chaplin. When World War II intervened, he joined the resistance, helping to get young Jews to safety during this dangerous time. But Marcel never forgot his dream of being a mime artist and entertaining the world.

-- "Journal"

Product Details

Kar-Ben Publishing (Tm)
Publish Date
August 01, 2011
9.4 X 0.3 X 11.0 inches | 0.95 pounds
Library Binding

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About the Author

Gloria Spielman was born in London, grew up in the library, and has been writing ever since she can remember. She is the author of two children's biographies, Janus Korczak's Children and the award-winning Marcel Marceau: Master of Mime.
Manon Gauthier is a graphic artist who made the leap to picture book illustration in 2006. After her first book was shortlisted for the Governor General's Award for Children's Literature, she dedicated herself entirely to illustration, and to giving presentations and art workshops in schools across Quebec. A flexible artist, Manon works in many media, including gouache, pencils, and paper collage. She lives in Montreal.


Pantomime artist Marcel Marceau's silent, white-faced character Bip is widely known throughout the world. Less known is Marceau's life story, which is just as fascinating. From the time he was a small boy in Strasbourg, France, Marcel Mangel entertained his peers by doing impressions of animals and of his favorite movie actor, Charlie Chaplin. At age sixteen, Marcel and his older brother Alain fled from the Nazis to Limoges, where they changed their last name to Marceau and became active in the French Resistance. Because of his ability to impersonate and entertain, Marcel was tapped to smuggle Jewish children out of France and into Switzerland, a dangerous trip he took many times, disguising himself and the children as scouts on their way to camp. This work eventually led to an opportunity for him to attend drama school in Paris, and there he discovered his life's passion and his profession. In 1947, he introduced the character Bip, who served as his alter ego and persona for the next sixty years. Spielman's understated picture-book biography covers all these events but focuses particularly on the actor's early years, showing how he first used his natural talents as a survival mechanism and later crafted them into an art form. Gauthier's softly colored line drawing perfectly capture the gentle spirit of Marcel Marceau, both off and on stage. --The Horn Book Magazine

-- "Journal"

Reaching well beyond his role as a mime, Spielman's (Janusz Korczak's Children) picture-book biography puts a fascinating new face on Marceau (1923-2007), tracing his career in entertainment back to his childhood idolization of Charlie Chaplin, who 'could make his audience laugh and cry without ever speaking a word.' As a boy in Strasbourg, Marcel amused peers with his impersonations of animals, but WWII changed the tenor of his life. Gauthier's (The Tooth) airy illustrations become (at least briefly) more somber as they portray the evacuation of Marceau's hometown, and his work with the French Resistance as a teenager, which entailed leading Jewish children across the Swiss border to safety, often disguising them as scouts on their way to camp. After his father was deported to Auschwitz, Marceau's mother sent him to a children's home, where he pursued his dramatic aspirations, eventually studying, perfecting, and teaching mime. Terrific photos of Marceau on stage close out this well-rounded biography and complement Gauthier's more abstract portraits of the man who took Chaplin's flair a step further to revive 'the ancient and almost forgotten art of silence.'" --Publishers Weekly

-- "Journal"

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 mime--and for the next 60 years he 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.--Washington Parent

-- "Magazine"

When Marcel Mangel was a little boy, his father took him to see a Charlie Chaplin movie. Marcel was amazed to see that the comic actor was able to make people laugh out loud even though he did not say a word. This uncanny ability made Marcel want to be just like Charlie, and he became a skilled mime who was beloved by the children who watched his antics.

In 1939 Marcel and his brother Alain left their home in Strasbourg and went to Limoges, where Marcel attended school and studied art. He was not able to enjoy this life for long though. By the summer of 1940, much of France was occupied, and the anti Jewish laws imposed by the Nazis were making life miserable for Jews like Marcel and Alain. The brothers began to work with the French Resistance, with Marcel specializing in creating forged travel documents for Jewish children. Several times he led groups of children to the Swiss border so that they could escape the Nazis. It was during this time, that he changed his last name, taking the name Marceau.

When Limoges became too dangerous for him, Marcel's mother sent him to children's home outside of Paris. Marcel kept on practicing his acting and mime techniques, teaching other children what he could about drama and art. Then, when Marcel was twenty, someone saw him performing and suggested that he should go to the drama school that was founded by a famous actor and director. Though the world was at war still, Marcel was finally on his way to becoming the performer that he had always dreamed of being.

These days not many people watch Charlie Chaplain's movies, and therefore they cannot appreciate how funny and moving a good mime performance can be. In this book, Gloria Spielman tells the story of one of the world's greatest mimes, showing her readers how brave Marcel Marceau was during the war years in Europe, and how committed he was to his craft. Young actors will find this story inspirational and motivational. --Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

-- "Website"

Marcel Marceau, Master of Mime, by Gloria Spielman, illustrated by Manon Gauthier (Kar-Ben). I confess I have always been a mime-mocker. Walking against the wind? Trapped in a box? Climbing a ladder? Oh cripes, cut it out and say something! But I'm eating my own words (silently! with invisible cutlery!) after reading this gripping biography. At age 5, Marcel--the son of a kosher butcher in Strasbourg, France--is determined to become a silent actor like Charlie Chaplin. At 16, he joins the French Resistance to fight the Nazis. He alters photos and forges ID cards to make other children look too young to be sent to the camps and secretly leads groups of Jewish children across the Swiss border to safety. After the war, he becomes the artist he always wanted to be. The luminous pencil and watercolor illustrations complement the text beautifully.--Tablet

-- "Magazine"

A puppeteer, a mime and a magician -- each with the ability to enchant, yet each with skills far more attainable by the performance-minded child than the abilities of a certain Harry Potter -- are the worthy subjects of three very different biographies for middle-grade readers about men who mastered some form of magic.

'Jim Henson' relates its subject's story in traditional linear fashion, beginning with 'Jim Henson's family didn't have a TV. No one had a TV in the 1930s.' Henson's puppets will be familiar to many young readers and his life story is certainly of interest. But despite a few choice details (Henson's childhood best friend was named Kermit), the story of his childhood that follows has an Everyboy vagueness, and the prose, especially considering that its subject's creations were so distinctively witty, lacks a certain amount of imagination.

The story comes alive with Henson's interest in puppetry, which blossomed when he was 16 and responded to a help-wanted ad for a young person to work marionettes on a Saturday morning show. Thus did Henson land his first job in television. The book describes Henson's innovations, which include his use of flexible fabric in place of wood to enhance his puppets' facial expressions and his banishment of the puppet's traditional boxed stage. But a sentence like 'Fifteen years after introducing the Muppets, Jim was 33 and a famous guy on TV' sounds more like a promotional brochure than a biography for children. The illustrations, alas, are also somewhat lackluster, although Henson's own creatures, from Big Bird to the hecklers, are depicted with verve.

Far more visually arresting is 'Marcel Marceau: Master of Mime, ' which showcases the atmospheric mixed media artwork of Manon Gauthier, a finalist for the Governor General of Canada Awards, the Canadian equivalent of the Caldecott for illustrators. While the art and layout are structured like a picture book for young children, the text is pitched for children older than 10: The French Resistance is mentioned without context or explanation, for example, as are identity cards and labor camps. But 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.

Clarity of format and treatment are both present, happily, in 'Harry Houdini, ' a beautifully illustrated biography of this most fascinating man. Janice Weaver, whose previous books for children include 'Hudson, ' combines photographs, original illustrations and archival material like playbills and posters to tell the story of the boy who fled the Hungarian ghetto and then became a lifelong master escape artist. The detail and background information are just right and don't overwhelm the story.

Such treatment befits a life like Houdini's, which began in Budapest in 1874 as Ehrich Weiss, one of five children born to a Jewish rabbi and his second wife. The family moved to Appleton, Wis., where Houdini's father was fired, four years later, leading to a period of poverty for the whole family, and child labor for young Houdini. As a teenager, Ehrich renamed himself and entered the sideshow business, eventually becoming an international celebrity -- escapee from the Chinese Water Torture Cell, the King of Handcuffs and a friend of Arthur Conan Doyle -- only to die on Halloween in 1926 under appropriately mysterious circumstances.

With entertaining sidebars on metamorphosis tricks and dime bars, 'Harry Houdini' is sure to enchant aspiring magicians, offbeat history buffs and anyone who, in our own straitened times, appreciates a good rag-to-riches tale. These days, such transformations can seem almost magical. --The New York Times Book Review

-- "Newspaper"

This picture book biography discusses Marceau reviving the mime art after being heavily influenced by Charlie Chaplin and silent movies as a child, studying at Dullin's drama school in Paris, and perfecting his art. It also describes his actions in WW II when he used his drawing skills to forge identity cards and guided groups of children across the border into Switzerland. The narrative presents Marceau's life in a storybook-like manner and makes the material interesting and accessible to children. The pale watercolors suitably reflect this period. When the story jumps ahead to the end of Marceau's career, the book ends with photographs of Marceau performing. --Bayviews

-- "Journal"

The noteworthy life of Marcel Marceau, born Marcel Mangel, is explored in this attractive picture book. Adults who are familiar with his famous work as a mime will be interested in his early experiences as a young boy growing up in Strasbourg, France on the eve of World War II. In an expressive and straightforward text, the author tells the story of a popular boy who wanted to be an entertainer like Charlie Chaplin from a very young age. As a citizen in Strasbourg, he and his family were forced to leave the city in a mass exodus of residents immediately after the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939. At sixteen years old, he joined the French resistance and used his drawing skills to alter information on the identity cards of children. He also led several trip across the border, taking them into the safety of Switzerland. His father, a kosher butcher, died in Auschwitz, but his mother and brother survived with Marcel in Paris. Eventually, he went to drama school and singlehandedly revived the art of mime, which had been almost forgotten. The pen and ink with watercolor art is striking and complements the softly told story perfectly, with the muted browns and beiges of wartime changing to red as Marcel finally peeks around the red curtain at his first show in 1947. The last two pages thankfully include real photos of the famous French artist in various poses as present day adults remember him. The book would have benefited from an author's note offering a simple background history of the region or why Marcel's family would be ordered to leave their city by their own government or what eventually happened to Marcel's father. (This would help the adult reader of the book, actually.) Marcel died in 2007 and this effective picture book is a pleasing tribute to his life and memory.--Jewish Book World

-- "Magazine"

Spielman's excellent biography of the Master of Mime engages one from the outset by introducing young Marcel as he is raiding his father's wardrobe to dress up as Charlie Chaplin and entertain neighbors on the streets of pre-World War II France. We see that Marceau was, from his own outset, a performer and much in demand.

He was also a Jew, and this fact altered his life, which is an understatement. His father died in Auschwitz. At the age of 16, he and his older brother worked for the French Resistance in Limoges. The artistic young Marceau forged documents and dangerously led groups of Jewish children secretly to the Swiss border. At 20, Marceau was in Paris studying mime and later performed for Patton's troops in Germany. Once the war was over, Marceau concentrated on his art, honing his clown character Bip. His fame spread worldwide, and many of us have been privileged to see him on one medium or another. His legacy, through his school for mime and also through the lives of the children he saved during WWII, is assured. His mime communicated beyond language. (Oh, and BTW, he spoke excellent English.)

Spielman's language in this book soars, even poetic when describing what Marceau could do through mime. And the art is outstanding, very expressive and using the page space gorgeously through color, placement, and design. Gauthier fits the palette to the prose, making for a very successful collaboration. --Center for the Study of Children's Literature at San Diego State University

-- "Journal"