Sir Charlie: Chaplin, the Funniest Man in the World by Sid Fleischman

sircharlie“See him? That little tramp twitching a postage stamp of a mustache, politely lifting his bowler hat, and leaning on a bamboo cane with the confidence of a gentleman?  A slapstick comedian, he blazed forth as the brightest movie star in the Hollywood heavens.  Everyone knew Charlie- Charlie Chaplin.”

You know, I was feeling uneasy about not reviewing any nonfiction on the blog, friends.  I set out to remedy it, and the first book in the lineup is a biography of Charlie Chaplin.  I’m new to the biography world, and newer still to the world of biographies written for young adults, but this was a great book to start with.  Full of pictures, anecdotes, the storylines and highlights of all of his films, this was a big, lovely book about one of my favorite stars.  Perhaps the best part about it is that it is a book that can be used as a reference for projects and reports, but it is also a pleasant and entertaining read; it definitely doesn’t feel like a dry history.  It’s nice to read the story of another person, especially one as beloved and influential as Mr. Chaplin. If you’re looking to start with some nonfiction, this is a lovely place to begin.

And this post comes with a surprise bonus: some Charlie Chaplin clips!  Happy reading! (And watching!)

His famous speech in The Great Dictator.

Charlie Chaplin receiving an honorary Oscar. (The audience applauds for a year and a half, and it makes him cry and he is so humble and lovely! You’ll love it.)

Charlie and the Eating Machine in Modern Times.

Author’s website:

Fleischman, Sid. Sir Charlie: Chaplin, the Funniest Man in the World.  Greenwillow: New York, 2010. 267 pp. Ages 11-14.

If you liked this book because you’re in love with Charlie Chaplin (like me), then…well, this is it.  This is the only biography of him for youth that I’ve run across!  But the biographer, Sid Fleishchman, wrote many other books on people who are just as interesting.  If you’re looking for Charlie, though-how about a movie marathon?


The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis

“Letters are opened and censored.  Informers are rewarded for snooping.  There are shortages of almost everything.  People stand in long lines.”

This is a graphic novel-picture book hybrid that tells the story of a little boy growing up in Prague, behind the Iron Curtain. His schoolmates did forced labor in the fields.  Art was censored.  It only took very little provocation to be questioned by the authorities.  He describes it as a difficult life, full of fear and empty of diversity.   There was no television when he was young, so he drew his own pictures.  He found refuge in painting the free and beautiful world he wanted, as well as in music.

The format is interesting: there are diary entries interspersed with descriptions of historical events and drawings of his life. I loved the black and white drawings, with only red accents: it’s a very striking visual representation of the sameness and culturally bare life he describes under communism.  When pop music begins to trickle in, the colors get more and more varied and vivid-a beautiful touch.

I loved the story; it was interesting and not something you read about very often.  This is a quick, informative text with a lot of creative art.  Happy Reading!

Author’s website:

Sis, Peter. The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain. New York: Frances Foster Books, 2007.   Ages 13 and up.

Barefoot Gen by Keiji Nakazawa

“Gen, quick, take your mother! Hurry! You’ve got to take care of your mother! Your baby brother is still in your mama’s belly…you can’t die! You’ve got to survive!”

This graphic novel is the first in a ten-volume series, and it is an autobiographical account of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.  Yes, autobiographical.  This really happened to the author, when he was six years old.  At 8:15, the atomic bomb detonated above Hiroshima, and the only way he survived was because he was protected by a concrete retaining wall at school.  He lost his brother, sister, and father: the house crushed his brother, and his father and sister were trapped and burned to death.  At the time, his mother was eight months pregnant, and the shock sent her into labor.  Adding tragedy upon tragedy, his little sister never reached her first birthday: she died of malnutrition.

But I started with the end of the book first.  Before the bomb drops, we learn about Gen and his family: the brother who is sent away to the country to protect him from bombs, the other brother who enlisted in the army, Gen’s father, who believes the war is a senseless, needless tragedy, perpetuated at the hands of rich leaders who are willing to sacrifice everything, including the lives of their citizens.  Everyone is hungry; everyone is frightened.  Even amidst the fear, there are acts of generosity and kindness, though, and it contrasts with the horrors of war, portrayed through a child’s eyes.

I know that for American readers, it is sometimes easy to equate graphic novels with comic books, and therefore associate them with frivolous topics: superheroes and the like.  However, that’s not the case.  Keiji Nakazawa began cartooning his experiences during World War II as a way to heal, and recover from the years of terror, starvation, and death.  Upon seeing his creations, This series was translated into many languages by Project Gen, and the author has this to say about the project:

“Human beings are foolish.  Thanks to bigotry, religious fanaticism, and the greed of those who traffic in war, the Earth is never at peace, and the specter of nuclear war is never far away.  I hope that Gen’s story conveys to its readers the preciousness of peace and the courage we need to live strongly, yet peacefully.”

This is one book that I won’t be forgetting quickly.

Happy Reading!

Nakazawa, Keiji.  Barefoot Gen: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima. Vol I.  San Francisco: Last Gap Books, 2004.  284 pp.  Ages 15 and up.