From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 5 Up—This lively and engaging account of a poor Cockney boy who became the world's greatest silent-movie comedian is a must for biography collections. By the age of six, Chaplin was fending for himself in London's slums, evading the workhouse as his mother checked in and out of mental institutions. He spent a few miserable months with his inebriated father and stepmother, who made an unwitting contribution to his future career: by observing them, Charlie was able to perfect his impression of the stumbling drunk, which won him many laughs in his early days on the stage. He developed his slapstick talents with a traveling comedy troupe, found his way to Hollywood, and immortalized himself as the Little Tramp, the darling character of the silent movie era. The book explores his rise to mind-boggling fame, and his fall from grace as he was touched by scandal, investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee, and eventually deported. Brief, easily digestible chapters, an extensive time line, and plenty of photos make the book's well-researched content accessible and appealing. Add to that Fleischman's playful narrative tone and you have a book as entertaining as Sir Charlie himself.—Emma Burkhart, Springside School, Philadelphia, PA
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*Starred Review* Following well-received titles about Mark Twain and Harry Houdini, Fleischman's third biography is a bittersweet celebration: it is the last book the author published before his death, in March 2010. With a straightforward chronology, the chapters follow the famous comedian from his impoverished childhood in London slums through Hollywood stardom and his final years, when he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. As in his previous books about famous lives, Fleischman infuses the narrative with energetic charm, and although the book is thoroughly documented with exemplary source notes, playful metaphors lend an almost tall-tale tone that echoes the humor of Chaplin's work: “Custard pies were flying,” Fleischman writes in a description of the tangled movie business. The author also deftly integrates details of early moviemaking into the colorful accounts of Chaplin's tumultuous personal and professional lives, and he writes with unabashed enthusiasm for Chaplin's work: of the chase scene in The Kid, he writes, “If one can watch the sequence without tear ducts overflowing and heart in throat, one needs jumper cables.” Young people with a noncurricular interest in Chaplin may be few, but once led to this fascinating, well-shaped, and entertaining title, they may well discover a curiosity about and appreciation for the films that made the great comedian famous. Photos and a time line complete this standout portrait. Grades 6-10. --Gillian Engberg