Marcel Marceau

Master of Mime

  • Interest Level: Grade 3 - Grade 5
  • Reading Level: Grade 3

From the age of five, Marcel Marceau knew he wanted to be a silent actor, just like Charlie Chaplin. When World War II intervened, he joined the resistance, helping to get young Jews to safety during this dangerous time. But Marcel never forgot his dream of being a mime artist and entertaining the world.

Format Your Price Add
Interest Level Grade 3 - Grade 5
Reading Level Grade 3
Genre Picture Books, Social Studies
Copyright 2011
Publisher Lerner Publishing Group
Imprint Kar-Ben Publishing ®
Language English
Number of Pages 32
Publication Date 2011-08-01
Reading Counts! Level 5.6
Text Type Narrative Nonfiction
Dewey 792.302'8092
Graphics Full-color illustrations
Dimensions 9.25 x 11
Lexile 860
ATOS Reading Level 5.1
Accelerated Reader® Quiz 145226
Accelerated Reader® Points 0.5
Features Author/Illustrator note, Original artwork, Reviewed, and Starred Reviews


The Horn Book Guide

“Spielman’s understated picture book biography covers fascinating events of Marceau’s early life. At sixteen, he and his brother fled the Nazis and became active in the French Resistance. Because of his ability to entertain, Marcel was tapped to smuggle Jewish children out of France. Gauthier’s softly colored line drawings perfectly capture the gentle spirit of the performer, both off and on stage.” —The Horn Book Guide

Library Media Connection

“This is a beautifully written and illustrated nonfiction picture book for older elementary students. Marcel Marceau knew from the age of 5 that he wanted to be a silent actor like Charlie Chaplin. Marcel never lost sight of his dream, performing on stage for over 60 years and creating a school for mimes. Marcel Marceau’s story is one of courage, inspiration, and triumph. The watercolor and pencil illustrations help to bring this heartfelt story to life. In spite of its narrow focus, this picture book could easily be used in art and social studies classes.” —Library Media Connection

National Center for the Study of Children's Literature

“Spielman’s excellent biography of the Master of Mime engages one from the outset by introducing young Marcel as he is raiding his father’s wardrobe to dress up as Charlie Chaplin and entertain neighbors on the streets of pre-World War II France. We see that Marceau was, from his own outset, a performer and much in demand.

He was also a Jew, and this fact altered his life, which is an understatement. His father died in Auschwitz. At the age of 16, he and his older brother worked for the French Resistance in Limoges. The artistic young Marceau forged documents and dangerously led groups of Jewish children secretly to the Swiss border. At 20, Marceau was in Paris studying mime and later performed for Patton’s troops in Germany. Once the war was over, Marceau concentrated on his art, honing his clown character Bip. His fame spread worldwide, and many of us have been privileged to see him on one medium or another. His legacy, through his school for mime and also through the lives of the children he saved during WWII, is assured. His mime communicated beyond language. (Oh, and BTW, he spoke excellent English.)

Spielman’s language in this book soars, even poetic when describing what Marceau could do through mime. And the art is outstanding, very expressive and using the page space gorgeously through color, placement, and design. Gauthier fits the palette to the prose, making for a very successful collaboration.” —National Center for the Study of Children’s Literature

Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Review

“When Marcel Mangel was a little boy, his father took him to see a Charlie Chaplin movie. Marcel was amazed to see that the comic actor was able to make people laugh out loud even though he did not say a word. This uncanny ability made Marcel want to be just like Charlie, and he became a skilled mime who was beloved by the children who watched his antics.

In 1939 Marcel and his brother Alain left their home in Strasbourg and went to Limoges, where Marcel attended school and studied art. He was not able to enjoy this life for long though. By the summer of 1940, much of France was occupied, and the anti Jewish laws imposed by the Nazis were making life miserable for Jews like Marcel and Alain. The brothers began to work with the French Resistance, with Marcel specializing in creating forged travel documents for Jewish children. Several times he led groups of children to the Swiss border so that they could escape the Nazis. It was during this time, that he changed his last name, taking the name Marceau.

When Limoges became too dangerous for him, Marcel’s mother sent him to children’s home outside of Paris. Marcel kept on practicing his acting and mime techniques, teaching other children what he could about drama and art. Then, when Marcel was twenty, someone saw him performing and suggested that he should go to the drama school that was founded by a famous actor and director. Though the world was at war still, Marcel was finally on his way to becoming the performer that he had always dreamed of being.

These days not many people watch Charlie Chaplain’s movies, and therefore they cannot appreciate how funny and moving a good mime performance can be. In this book, Gloria Spielman tells the story of one of the world’s greatest mimes, showing her readers how brave Marcel Marceau was during the war years in Europe, and how committed he was to his craft. Young actors will find this story inspirational and motivational.” —Through the Looking Glass Children’s Book Reviews

Washington Parent

“Little Marcel grows up in Strasbourg, on the border between France and Germany, fascinated with the silent film star Charlie Chaplin. He, too, wants to use only his gestures and the medium of silence to make people laugh and cry. But Hitler intervenes when the boy is 16, and Marcel becomes part of the French Resistance, helping to forge identification cards for Jewish children and even leading small groups, dressed as boy scouts, to safety in Switzerland. At the end of World War II, Marcel is able to study the ancient art of mime—and for the next 60 years he performs around the world. This whimsical biography, with its dark notes of oppression and war, reminds readers of the power of dreams and the importance of practice and persistence.”—Washington Parent


Marcel Marceau, Master of Mime, by Gloria Spielman, illustrated by Manon Gauthier (Kar-Ben). I confess I have always been a mime-mocker. Walking against the wind? Trapped in a box? Climbing a ladder? Oh cripes, cut it out and say something! But I’m eating my own words (silently! with invisible cutlery!) after reading this gripping biography. At age 5, Marcel—the son of a kosher butcher in Strasbourg, France—is determined to become a silent actor like Charlie Chaplin. At 16, he joins the French Resistance to fight the Nazis. He alters photos and forges ID cards to make other children look too young to be sent to the camps and secretly leads groups of Jewish children across the Swiss border to safety. After the war, he becomes the artist he always wanted to be. The luminous pencil and watercolor illustrations complement the text beautifully.”—Tablet

Jewish Book World

“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.”—Jewish Book World

The Horn Book Magazine

Manon Gauthier’s softly colored line drawing perfectly capture the gentle spirit of Marcel Marceau, both off and on stage." -The Horn Book


The narrative presents Marceau’s life in a storybook-like manner and makes the material interesting and accessible to children.” Bayviews

The Horn Book Magazine

“Gauthier’s softly colored line drawing perfectly capture the gentle spirit of Marcel Marceau, both off and on stage.” —The Horn Book Magazine

SDSU Children's Litaerature Review

Spielman’s language in this book soars, even poetic when describing what Marceau could do through mime. And the art is outstanding, very expressive and using the page space gorgeously through color, placement, and design. Gauthier fits the palette to the prose, making for a very successful collaboration. —Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at San Diego State University

The New York Times Book Review

“Far more visually arresting is ‘Marcel Marceau: Master of Mime,’ which showcases the atmospheric mixed media artwork of Manon Gauthier, a finalist for the Governor General of Canada Awards, the Canadian equivalent of the Caldecott for illustrators. While the art and layout are structured like a picture book for young children, the text is pitched for children older than 10: The French Resistance is mentioned without context or explanation, for example, as are identity cards and labor camps. But as a read-aloud for older children who will tolerate the format, and with sufficient background information from those versed in the history, the book works, largely on the strength of its remarkable subject and striking visuals.” —The New York Times Book Review

Publishers Weekly

“Terrific photos of Marceau on stage close out this well-rounded biography and complement Gauthier’s more abstract portraits of the man who took Chaplin’s flair a step further to revive ‘the ancient and almost forgotten art of silence.’” —Publishers Weekly

Author: Gloria Spielman

Illustrator: Manon Gauthier

Manon Gauthier lives in Montreal, Canada, where she works as a professional illustrator. A graphic designer by training, she decided to devote herself entirely to books for children in 2006. She likes mixing techniques and media. Her work has been recognized by the Governor General of Canada Awards and has won the Illustration Jeunesse Prize.