Mar­cel Marceau: Mas­ter of Mime

Glo­ria Spiel­man; Manon Gau­thi­er, illus.
  • Review
By – November 7, 2011
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. Rec­om­mend­ed for ages 7 – 10.

Read Glo­ria Spiel­man’s Posts for the Vis­it­ing Scribe

The Uni­ver­si­ty of the Ghetto

My First Writ­ing Group: The Internet

Silence, Blessed Silence

Lisa Sil­ver­man is direc­tor of Sinai Tem­ple’s Blu­men­thal Library in Los Ange­les and a for­mer day school librar­i­an. She is the for­mer chil­dren’s book review edi­tor of Jew­ish Book World.

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