Seraphin by Philippe Fix. Translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith. Elsewhere Editions, 2019. ISBN 9781939810250
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4
What did you like about the book? This eccentric and whimsical book is a translation of Le merveilleux chef-d’oeuvre de Séraphin, published in 1967. Seraphin is a middle aged man who tires of his job as a subway ticket taker. His only friend is a child named Plume. And it seems like Seraphin is Plume’s only friend. Coincidentally, on the day that Seraphin is fired, he also finds out that he has inherited a large dilapidated house and an old jalopy. He and Plume repair the car and renovate the house. A series of triumphs and setbacks involving money, magic, urban over-developement and fantastical Rube Goldberg-like contraptions constitutes the rest of the story, with an unexpected, strange and delightful ending. The cartoon-like illustrations, reminiscent of the old Usborne books, are full of detail and individuality and fun to pore over. The translation is fresh, and I enjoyed the great vocabulary. I think kids will experience surprise and delight while reading this unusual book.
Anything you didn’t like about it? The friendship between an old man and a little boy, with no parents in sight, is sure to set off alarms for some readers. Also, although Seraphin is an interesting character, Plume is not given any depth at all. Who the heck is this kid whose only friend is an eccentric old man?! One last thing: there are no girls at all in any of their adventures.
To whom would you recommend this book? Offer this to readers, ages 5-9, who enjoy the details of construction, both real and imagined, and who like poring over detailed, quirky books. This would be a fun one to one read with a receptive child.
Who should buy this book? This is an additional purchase for libraries (see my quibbles above), but it may be a good gift for families who may be familiar with this French author, or for those whose kids cannot get enough construction-related stories.
Where would you shelve it ? Picture books, maybe in Oversized
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Hmm, take a quick look.
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Stephanie Tournas, Robbins Library, Arlington, MA
Date of review: April 14, 2029