Thursday, March 21, 2019

Picture Book Review: Smile: how young Charlie Chaplin taught the world to laugh and cry by Gary Golio

Smile: how young Charlie Chaplin taught the world to laugh and cry by Gary Golio. Illustrated by Ed Young. unpgd. Candlewick Press, March 26, 2019. 97807636967617. (Review of finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

Oh, how my heart sang when I received an email about reviewing Smile! First off, I am a huge Chaplin fan. Secondly, I am a fan of Golio's biographies, especially his earlier collaboration with Young, Bird and Diz. It wasn't hard to be objective. 

Smile beguiles from first glance. The cover design is absolute genius with the author's and illustrator's names incorporated into the "Little Tramp's" noteworthy mustache and eyebrow. Be sure to open it up and appreciate more design treats, such as the spotlit silhouette that starts on the spine and bleeds onto the front cover. The back cover pays homage to silent films with a title card that displays the title, creators and the promise that, "You'll laugh! You'll cry!"

Remove the cover to find this:

This will probably appear in a "Cover Dilemma" post soon. I must confess, while I love the colorful, torn tissue paper collage work on the jacket, I don't get the connection to Chaplin. I see the color motifs carried over into the word, "smile." Maybe there is no significance other than beauty. It is quite beautiful and a shame to tape down the cover as one must in a library.

Golio's spare and lyrical biography is the perfect introduction of the complex and flawed Chaplin for young readers. He gently plucks the reader's heartstrings with Charlie's rough beginning. Luckily, Charlie was loved by his mother who cultivated a love a performing and story. Reader's will come to learn about resiliency and creativity as Charlie works to adapt to the changing times. 

I have a gorgeous biography called, Sir Charlie: Chaplin, the funniest man in the world, written by Sid Fleischman that only a single student checked out since its publication in 2010. I usually get blank looks when I try to hand-sell this one. One aim of my sixth grade Picture Book Biography unit is to give students a taste of a subject that will pique enough interest to invest time and effort to read a full-length biography. I have high hopes that some of my sixth graders will become Chaplin fans after reading Smile.

It is Young's mixed media collages that star here. Textures and color are combined to bring Charlie to life. Interestingly, this is done mostly through silhouette. One really doesn't get a sense about what Charlie looks like. It's pure emotion, action and, later, humor. It isn't until the final page of the book, where a black and white photo of "The Little Tramp" floats in the white space, that the reader see what his face (and persona) look like. 

An additional design delight pays homage to the silents by the placement of "The Little Tramp's" silhouette in the lower right corners of most the other pages. Careful flipping of the pages makes for a crude movie of sorts. I tried to film it with my phone to share on FB, but the page loaded sideways and the file is too big to share through an email for me to embed here. 

Do I hear the word, Caldecott?  

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