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Lights! Camera! Alice!: Mara Rockliff & Simona Ciraolo

Book: Lights! Camera! Alice!: The Thrilling True Adventures of the First Woman Filmmaker
Author: Mara Rockliff
Illustrator: Simona Ciraolo
Pages: 60
Age Range: 6-9

LightsCameraAliceLights! Camera! Alice! is a picture book biography of Alice Guy-Blaché, a woman who made some of the earliest (and most exciting) films of the late 19th and early 20th century. Mara Rockliff and Simona Ciraolo's introduction to Alice's life starts with her as a relatively privileged little girl who "lived on stories". After a series of tragedies, however, Alice is forced to seek work. She ends up working at a camera company, where gets in on the ground floor of moving pictures. Here Alice taps her love of story and applies it to the new medium, becoming a quite successful filmmaker. The book traces Alice's ups and downs as she travels from France to America, and eventually back to France, raising a family, and making movies.

The book is constructed as a series of discrete scenes, with title pages in between them, just like they used to have in old movies. "A Terrible Catastrophe", "Starting Something", "Imagination", etc. I found this a nice homage to the film theme. Rockliff's writing has a breathless, old movie style quality, too, with lots of exclamations and italics (some of the exclamations in French). Like this:

"The inventors turned a crank, and a picture appeared--a moving picture! Soon, the camera company was selling the new cameras. They were a sensation. 

Imagine! Anything that happened could be caught on film to see again... 

and again...

and again..."

It's fun to read aloud. Alice is an appealing heroine, although her story ends on a quiet note.  

What what took this book over the top for me were Ciraolo's illustrations. Alice is simply adorable as wide-eyed, book-loving child with a bow in her hair. And she retains that sweetness and enthusiasm all through the book, even as she ages. Just look at her up there on the cover. You'll see. She just looks like someone you would want to spend time with. Ciraolo uses a mix of perspectives and colors, some pages busy and others full of white space. Although the book is long at 60 pages, it flies by.

I think this is a book more for elementary school kids than for preschoolers, requiring a certain attention span. But this makes it a perfect choice for elementary school libraries, particularly those seeking more books about interesting historical women (and who doesn't want more of that?). My eight-year-old read it herself, and then we read it together, and we both enjoyed it very much. Highly recommended, especially for those who appreciate stories in their many forms. 

Publisher: Chronicle Kids (@ChronicleKids
Publication Date: September 11, 2018
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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