Monsieur Marceau by Leda Schubert

Cindy: “He is the superstar of silence, the maestro of mime–acting without words.” So begins this picture book biography, Monsieur Marceau (Roaring Brook/Neal Porter 2012) of the most famous mime to ever perform. I remember as a child watching Marcel Marceau perform on television variety shows, probably The Red Skelton Show or The Ed Sullivan Show. I remember my laughably weak attempts to create the illusions he did all the while making it appear so effortless. Young children will not know Marceau, but videos of some of his later performances can be viewed on YouTube. One is available here.

While I do remember watching Marceau in action, I knew little of his personal story. It makes sense that Marceau grew up idolizing silent film star Charlie Chaplin and practiced amusing his friends with mimed acts. But his youth was not all laughter. World War II began during his teen years and the Jewish young man eventually joined the French Resistance and helped hundreds of Jewish children to escape to Switzerland. He credits this painful time and his father’s death in a concentration camp with perhaps contributing to his choice of silence. Schubert reports that while Marceau was silent on stage as his art required, he loved to talk offstage.

“Never get a mime talking. He won’t stop.” –Marcel Marceau

Performance art is often hard to bring to life on a two dimensional page, but Gerard DuBois’ illustrations use white space as effectively as mimes use white-face to better show emotion and facial expressions. Sepia toned pages illustrate much of the historical time frame but the pages that focus on Marcel with punches of red color are especially effective.

I have really become a fan of picture book biographies and Schubert uses an economy of beautifully turned phrases to introduce children to this one-of-a-kind performer. Bravo.

Lynn:  I had the great pleasure of seeing Marceau perform in person.  My parents took us to see him when he appeared as part of  the convocation series at the university where my father taught.  I was smitten, as was every child in the audience, and my memory of that time is very like DuBois’ evocative illustrations – just the bare stage and Marceau’s stark white costume and make-up.  What I most remember though was the joy.  Marceau expressed joy in life, joy in small moments – even when he was sad, there was the promise that joy would return.  Schubert’s text and DuBois’ illustrations do this with bold statements ideal for young readers.  Schubert sentences have a simple yet dramatic structure and the text is as visual as the pictures.  “He walks against the wind, but there is no wind,” is echoed wonderfully in the illustration of Marceau seeming to lean into a gale.  I especially love the contrasting opposing pages, one on white and one on black, each with one phrase:  “He is full of joy”  “Or full of sadness.”

An Afterword provides more information about Marceau’s life and there is helpful advice from Rob Mermin, founding director of the Circus Smirkus, on how to get started with trying the art of miming.

This beautiful book would make an outstanding story hour book.  Schubert’s text and DuBois’ illustrations have captured the essence of Marceau and my squashed hat is off to them both!

Common Core Connection:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.3.2 Determine the main ideas and supporting details of a text read aloud or information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

Read aloud Monsieur Marceau and show a video of Marceau in action. Then have students design a promotional poster for a local performance by Marcel Marceau including key facts they learned about him.  Students can present their product to the class and include one mime move in their presentation.

Check out other Nonfiction Monday choices at Booktalking today.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees.

2 Comments on "Monsieur Marceau by Leda Schubert"

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  1. leda@ledaschubert.com' Leda says:

    THANK YOU both for such an informed and delightful review!!

  2. dschakel@macatawa.org' Deborah Noe Schakel says:

    I saw Marcel perform in the 70′s and was stunned. As a drama teacher I have found pantomime and mime exercises to break the ice and show us that theater is different than TV because anything can happen. A mime brings the audience into his created world, be it underwater, on a cloud or in an imaginary car. In a documentary Marcel talks about mime as “the language of the heart.” All of us have the same joys and sadness, and all of us can understand mime. Mime is an easy target of ridicule, and yet this master of the art took us with him on his little man “PIP” journeys. I think I need to go out and walk against the wind.

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