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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Marcel Marceau: Master of Mime, written by Gloria Speilman and illustrated by Manon Gauthier. Kar-Ben, 2011. $9.95 ages 7 and up

"Marcel couldn't have know it then - he was only five - but these were the last days of the silent movies. The first "talkies" had already appeared, and movie audiences loved hearing the actors speak. People would soon forget how to enjoy silence. But Marcel would remember."
Marcel knew he loved entertaining others from a very early age. He loved Charlie Chaplin and the silent movies that he saw.  He knew what he wanted to do with his life; but, life as he knew it in France changed dramatically with the declaration of war by Germany. He worked, as a teenager,  helping Jewish children cross borders to safety and ensuring that identity cards for Jewish children were changed to keep them safe from the Nazis. He used his considerable skill at acting to help quiet the children as they faced unknown danger. He changed his own name from Mangel to Marceau to ensure his own safety. 

Despite the many changes in his life, Marcel remained focused on his dream - to revive the old art of mime. He entertained audiences whenever he had the opportunity and even studied with a world famous mime named Eitenne Decroux. True to his desire to help those suffering during the war years, he did shows for the Allied troops, always working to perfect his character Bip. For many years, and with well deserved accolades, he used his body, his facial expressions and his audience's imagination to delight and charm.  His career lasted fifty years, never speaking a word. Imagine that! I, for one, would never make it through the rigorous training challenges that would have me remain silent while entertaining for long periods of time.     

Readers and listeners will learn much about the entertainer himself and about his world. The text touches on some of the events of WWII without any of the true horror experienced by those living through it. We come to know him as a hero to many as he worked with the French Resistance, and also as a man filled with the determination to make a difference in the lives of those who came to see him perform. He was famous throughout the world, and his audiences admired his enormous talent. His World of Mime School in Paris carries on his legacy of communication without language.

I think that both author and illustrator prove themselves exemplary in their collaboration for this fine book. Gloria Speilman chooses her words carefully and poetically to relate Marcel Marceau's great talent for mime. Manon Gauthier takes us back to Marcel's world from his earliest days with expressive, wondrous spreads that seem to be placed perfectly on each page. The colors are spot on to create the historical setting, the imagination of the art of mime, and the changing mood from stage to wartime terror.

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