Posted in Middle Grade, Non-fiction, picture books

Two picture book biographies: Charlie Chaplin and Gloria Steinem

Smile: How Young Charlie Chaplin Taught the World to Laugh (and Cry), by Gary Golio/Illustrated by Ed Young, (March 2019, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763697617

Ages 8-12

This picture book bio on silent screen giant Charlie Chaplin starts with Chaplin’s early life in London and his life in a poorhouse; covers his early performing years in London and his discovery by American filmmaker Mack Sennett, and Chaplin’s success in creating his classic Little Tramp. Using verse with occasional moments of rhyme, this is a fantastic way to bring Charlie Chaplin’s movies and life to an audience that, as Kirkus notes, “grow ever more distant”. I remember watching Chaplin’s movies on TV when I was growing up, and later on, as a cinema student in college; I loved his humor, and I loved his social commentary that came across loud and clear. Smile touches on these concepts and Chaplin’s talent to make viewers laugh and cry, sometimes at the time.

Ed Young’s collage and ink artwork is incredible. The collage endpapers are populated with silhouette cutouts; spreads are created using torn paper, fabrics, newsprint, and murky colors. Little Tramp silhouettes show up on almost every spread. The story ends with a photo of Chaplin as Little Tramp, and the beginning and end of the book appear as a silent film title cards.

Back matter includes quotes from Chaplin’s writing, an afterword from the author, facts about Charlie Chaplin, and a list of resources. The author includes a suggested Chaplin viewing list that I’d love to run here at my library. I’ll have to see if I can generate some interest. In the meantime, here’s a clip from The Kid (1921).

Smile has starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly. Gary Golio is an award-winning author of children’s nonfiction; Ed Young is a Caldecott-winning artist.

Gloria Takes a Stand: How Gloria Steinem Listened, Wrote, and Changed the World, by Jessica M. Rinker/Illustrated by Daria Peoples-Riley, (March 2019, Bloomsbury), $17.99, ISBN: 9781681196763

Ages 8-12

Feminist activist and icon Gloria Steinem’s story is told in narrative text and mixed media art, beginning with her early years as she traveling with her parents and learned in the back of their car. She goes to college, shakes off the “when are you going to get married?” expectations, opting to travel to India. Inspired by the the 1963 March on Washington, she decided to join fight for equality, eventually co-founding Ms. magazine in 1971.

The text is a bit dense, making it a better choice for middle grade readers; short sentences summarize every few spreads to reinforce Steinem’s actions throughout her life: “Gloria watched. She learned. And helped”; “Gloria thought. She questioned. And learned”. The mixed media artwork shows Steinem’s intersectionality, standing alongside people of color at marches and protests. There’s a nice tribute to Steinem’s influence on later generations of young women, with a diverse group holding signs including “Black Lives Matter”, “Where are you going to college?”, and “Resist! Persist!” An author’s note and illustrator’s note each touch on Steinem’s personal influence, and additional back matter includes a timeline of important events in U.S. women’s history, and a bibliography of further resources. The endpapers are renderings of Ms. magazine covers.

A nice addition for Women’s History Month collections and research.


I'm a mom, a children's librarian, bibliophile, and obsessive knitter. I'm a pop culture junkie and a proud nerd, and favorite reads usually fall into Sci-Fi/Fantasy. I review comics and graphic novels at WhatchaReading ( I'm also the co-founder of On Wednesdays We Wear Capes (, where I discuss pop culture and geek fandom from a female point of view.

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