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Monday, May 13, 2019

Smile: How Young Charlie Chaplin Taught The World to Laugh (And Cry), written by Gary Golio and illustrated by Ed Young. 2019. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. $23.99 ages 8 and up

"As Mum got stronger,
things got better.
Out of the poorhouse,
back on their own
She had Charlie practice
a poem.
"Miss Priscilla's Cat"
His schoolteacher loved
it, and Charlie recited it
To each and every class.
Howls of laughter!
Peals of applause!"

I have a young friend who is working on a picture book biography project with her grade 3/4 students. While collecting up some books for her to use in her classroom, it got me thinking about the bounty of these books that have been published over the past ten years. It also made me think about all I had learned from reading them. Learning about new people is a wonderful thing. These books, when done well, often provide just the right amount of information to satisfy a young person's curiosity; on the other hand, they can also provide impetus for interested readers to follow up on what they have learned and seek to know more. This leads to their being invested in their own learning. When speaking at workshops with teachers, I often suggest choosing and reading one picture book biography each week - doing so gives students access to people they may never otherwise know. Careful choice impacts curriculum, literacy and empathy. 

Charlie Chaplin is not known to many of the children who are attending school today. I feel sure that, in sharing this book with them, they will be immediately drawn in to the grim circumstances of his early life. His father was gone, his mother lost her singing voice when Charlie was five. With her last performance came Charlie's first:

"One night at a smoky music hall -
And five-year-old Charlie
Waiting in the wings
Stepped in front of the footlights.

He sang -
And a shower of silver coins fell about him!
He scooped them up -
And the crowd roared with laughter!
He danced -
And the cheering got louder!"

His mother did the best she could, encouraging Charlie's interest in story and the theater. When their money ran out, it was off to the poorhouse for her and her sons. They were terrible times for a young boy, separated from his family. Once out and back to some form of normalcy, Charlie would entertain his classmates with wit and humor. He loved it!

He once worked in a boys' troupe, entertaining others. Charlie was a skilled comedic actor, and a variety of parts earned him great reviews, and a trip to the United States. When Mack Sennet (now there's another story) saw Charlie perform, he knew he wanted him for his movies. There, Charlie thought back to a neighbor he had known in London and used his sad demeanor and clothing style to create a brand new Charlie - a funny little fellow named Charlie, who would go on to entertain through both laughter and sadness. And, that is the story of the Little Tramp!

Ed Young's brilliant abstract collage work and the book's design will garner attention to detail and to the many pivotal moments in Charlie Chaplin's life. His images clearly show the English and American settings, and allow readers to immerse themselves in a particular time in history.

An afterword adds to understanding Charlie as a performer and to his triumph in making people laugh and cry, often in quick succession. A list of facts provides a timeline, and a list of resources and selected books and movies are appreciated. 

Please enjoy the following:                                                                 

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