• Happy birthday, Cornelia Funke (Inkheart).
  • It’s the birth date of Rumer Godden (1907–1988), The Doll's House, An Episode of Sparrows, George MacDonald (1824–1905) Phantastes, The Princess and the Goblin, and Mary Norton (1903–1992) The Borrowers.
  • It’s also the birth date of poet Emily Dickinson (1830–1886). Read Emily by Michael Bedard, illustrated by Barbara Cooney, and I’m Nobody! Who Are You?: Poems by Emily Dickinson for Young People illustrated by Rex Schneider.
  • Melvil Dewey (1851–1931), creator of the Dewey Decimal classification system, was born on this day. Hence, it’s Dewey Decimal Day. Read Bob the Alien Discovers the Dewey Decimal System by Sandy Donovan, illustrated by Martin Haake.

December has been designated Read a New Book Month. During this month many hunt for new books to give as gifts. If you are one of those people, take a look at the picture book biography, Monsieur Marceau, written by Leda Schubert and illustrated by Gerard Dubois, winner this year of NCTE’s Orbis Pictus Award.

The story of a mime who does not speak could cause a problem for a biographer. But not in Leda Schubert’s able hands. Readers learn that Marceau “the superstar of silence” used his body to talk for him. Born in France in 1923 Marceau became part of the French resistance during World War II, changing his last name from Mangel to Marceau so that people would not know he was Jewish. His father died in a concentration camp; his family members who returned from the camps did not speak about them.  “Perhaps that, unconsciously, contributed towards” a choice of silence, he once said.

The majority of the book deals with the character, Bip, that he created on stage. As the text describes what Bip could do—such as walk against the wind when there was no wind—the illustrations bring these actions to life. Marceau turns into a fish or shows great joy and sadness. So animated is the artwork by Dubois, a Quebec illustrator, that readers feel as if they are watching a performance of the mime on stage. In these sections the text has been pared down to leave the room for the artist to ply his craft.

An Afterword provides more biographical material, and Rob Mermin of Circus Smirkus gives young readers some tips on how to get started as a mime.  In a short, forty page picture books readers learn a great deal not only about Marceau but also about the craft of miming. If you want to further extend the book, clips of Marceau’s performances can be found on youtube.

There are so many reasons to love this book—the poetry of the language, the expressiveness of the art. For me Monsieur Marceau demonstrates what the perfect picture book can accomplish: words and text working together to provide a unique reading experience. Marceau and his performances come alive in this slim volume. If you or the children in your life appreciate the performing arts, you will delight in sharing this book.


Originally posted December 10, 2012. Updated for .

Tags: History, Theater, World War II
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Monsieur Marceau


  1. suzi w. says:

    ooh, this looks wonderful! Have just requested a copy from my library…and maybe have a solution for my father for Christmas…in the past if Peter Sis had a new book out at Christmas, I’ve given him that, because my father reads 4 newspapers a day (online) but not very many books.

    Thank you, Anita, for reading all these books, for finding them for us.


  2. Anita says:

    Suzi: Getting to read great children’s books and writing about them is my idea of heaven — not a chore. But I am always glad when it is useful to people.

  3. Julie Larios says:

    Love this book and love its author. And I agree, Anita – perfect pairing of text and illustrations.

  4. Mary D says:

    I was so lucky to attend a Marcel Marceau performance in the 1970s. I still have the program around here somewhere and you have motivated me to look around for it. It was very special and now I am sure over the next few days, prompted by your post, I will recall more details. This is certainly a book I will look into for my granddaughters’ school libraries/performance teachers.

  5. These illustrations look amazing! I will have to get my hands on this book. Thanks for sharing, Anita.

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