|Image from LedaSchubert.com|
He peeks out from behind a curtain, his dark eyes twinkling from his face caked with white make-up. He can make “reality into dreams and dreams into reality.” All alone on a stage he can play tug of war, chase butterflies, transform into a fish or a bird or a tree with just the movements of his body, the expressions on this face. He is Marcel Marceau, the famous mime. But Marceau wasn’t always a mime. Born in Strasbourg, France in 1923 as Marcel Mangel, his dream of becoming a silent film star like Charlie Chaplin was crushed with the arrival of World War II. He joined the French Resistance and led hundreds of Jewish children to safety in Switzerland. So people wouldn't know he was Jewish he changed his last name to the French sounding Marceau. It wasn’t until the war ended that Marceau studied mime and created his most famous character, Bip. Marceau went on to perform around the world because, as he said, “Neither laughter nor tears are French, English, Russian, or Japanese.”
This picture book biography is a wonderful introduction to a unique performer, as well as a look at his efforts to save lives during World War II. The text, printed in large font, is beautifully worded and well-researched. All words spoken by Marceau in the text are drawn from research and are cited on the back page. There is an afterward with more detailed biographical information and a list of recommended books for further reading. Schubert also includes some beginning miming advice from Rob Mermin, the founding director of the Vermont-based Circus Smirkus. Mermin includes a short exercise that encourages the use of the senses of touch, taste, and sight to bring the imagined world to life. DuBois’ painted illustrations are wonderfully textured with visible brush strokes of thick paint. Illustrations that show Marceau performing pop out from the page in high contrast black and white with accents of blue and red. Conversely, the illustrations that depict Marceau’s real life as a child and during the war are soft edged and draw from a wider color palate that includes browns, greens, yellows, and blues.
Before or after you read this book show this video of Bip in The Lion Tamer. Watch the clip once through just to enjoy it. Then ask the kids how they knew where the lion was on the stage. Talk about how Marceau uses his eyes to follow the imaginary lion. Can you see the difference when Marceau is looking at lion and when he is looking at the audience and thanking them for the applause? How do you know what the lion is doing? Watch how Marceau reacts to the actions made by the lion. You might also show this snippet of his maskmaker sketch. For both sketches, you can also discuss the importance of music to the act. Watch them with sound and then without, what are the differences?
Use the exercise and suggestions given by Mermin and Schubert at the end of the book to get kids up and moving. Urge kids to think about all the little movements they use to accomplish even a small task like brushing their teeth or making a sandwich. Often kids will want to rush through the actions, so encourage them to slow down so that their audience can see every detail.
If you are interested in watching mime performed live or bringing a mime to your library, school, or other venue check out the Pantomime Mimes website, which includes listings for festivals and artists, as well as books, history, and news from around the world.
Check out Jacqueline Briggs Martin’s short 5 questioninterview with Schubert posted on her blog for more information on the inspiration and creation of the book.