'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Thursday 16 September 2010

Review: Martin Pebble

Title: Martin Pebble

Author: Jean-Jacques Sempé

Publisher: Phaidon, A$29.95RRP

Format: Hard cover with dust jacket

ISBN: 9780714846224

For ages: 2-10

Type: Picture book

About: First published in 1969 as Marcellin Caillou, Martin Pebble was penned and illustrated by Jean-Jacques Sempé, a famed French cartoonist and illustrator and creator of the classic book character, Nicolas.

This lustrous, large format, hard cover edition published by Phaidon, is a masterpiece of gorgeousness - visually evocative, charming, funny, totally adorable in every way. With its egg-yolk yellow cover and the most adorable line drawings on vast, milky-white matt pages, little readers will be entranced - and adults most similarly so.

Little Martin Pebble finds it hard to fit in. He's always blushing, you see - but mostly when it's least expected. In fact, when he really should be blushing, he often doesn't, and when he should be, he - well... does.

It's not a huge issue for Martin. He's more than happy buzzing around alone like a little red aeroplane on his own - not being part of the 'normal' crowd doesn't seem to phase him. And his blushing problem also doesn't seem to cause a sweat. But still, he'd really just like to know what it is that makes him blush.

Then Martin makes a new friend - Roddy Rackett - who also has an unusual problem. He can't stop sneezing. Does this both Roddy? Not really. Does it bother his new best friend Martin? Not in the least. Sometimes they discuss the problem, sometimes they just sit quietly, sometimes they run around having fun like young boys do. But the blushing and the atishing... well, it's just part and parcel.

Then one day Roddy moves away. Martin is shattered. But then he makes new friends. And then he grows up and then one day, as a grown, still-blushing man, he meets Roddy once again. But will things be the same between them? Yes, yes they will.

The storyline of this gorgeous book may sound a tad uneventful, but it is far from it. Using that très French, laissez-faire, c'est la vie attitude, Martin Pebble is all about life - a nice little slice of it and the glorious everydayness of it. It's about friendship, for sure, but it's also about acceptance, and even self-acceptance. It's about getting on with life even if we don't 'fit in' or can't 'explain' things.

The line-drawing cartoons are simple yet mind-bogglingly effective, punched here and there with stunning spots of colour and coupled with dialogue balloons holding funny, clever commentary from the various characters dotting the book.

But this is not cartooning in the traditional sense - the pages are strikingly and most effectively laid out to make this a stunning picture book - a far, far cry from the weekend newspaper funnies.

It's just scrumptious to pour over the pages and saturate oneself in the clever use of words - beautifully and most effectively translated and probably slightly modernised, but not glaringly nor frustratingly so.

For those with a love of vintage books, anything French, classic book design or even plain old cartoons, this is a must-buy. C'est tellement belle.

These books are available online