Review: Raoul Taburin by Jean-Jacques Sempé

Published by Lyn on 29 October 2012

Julia Stagg reviews the delightful Raoul Taburin by Jean-Jacques Sempé, one of France's best-loved writers and illustrators

Raoul Taburin, written and illustrated by Jean-Jacques Sempé

Looking for the perfect stocking filler for a cycling crazy adult or child this Christmas? This book is ideal. Set in a small town in France, it tells the tale of Raoul Taburin, the owner of the local bicycle shop who knows everything there is to know about bikes. But Monsieur Taburin has a terrible secret. And when that secret finally catches up with him, it has disastrous consequences.

Written and illustrated by Jean-Jacques Sempé - a man so famous in France for his distinctive cartoons that he is simply known as Sempé - Raoul Taburin is an enchanting story told with humour. But what really makes the book special is the artwork - whimsical and childlike while being incredibly detailed and evocative. In sweeping strokes, Sempé manages to capture the essence of those small bike shops you come across in France, where the owner is the mechanic, and quite often a former racer, and is usually occupied fixing the brakes on an old bicycle for Madame from across the road when you walk in. The unique tang of rubber and grease that identifies such places seems to float up off the very pages.

If you are going to treat someone (or even yourself!), you have a choice of two versions of the book. A French paperback is published by Gallimard-jeunesse if you want the story as originally published. If you opt for the more expensive hardback published in English by Phaidon Press, what's lost in the original language is more than compensated for by the much larger illustrations which make Raoul Taburin the delight that it is.

Raoul Taburin by Jean-Jacques Sempé is published in French by Gallimard-jeunesse. It's published in English by Phaidon Press.

Julia Stagg writes fiction set in the Ariège region of the French Pyrenees, an area she discovered through her passion for cycling. Her latest novel, The French Postmistress (UK, US, Fr), is the third in the Fogas Chronicles. It is published by Hodder and Stoughton – it even has a bike on the cover!

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