Part character study, part encyclopedic indulgence in odd facts, this is one quirky French import.
An oversized hardcover format triggers the knowledge that this is no ordinary picture book. Marcel the elephant strides purposefully (on two feet) across the cover toward the opening of the book while carrying an assortment of things and dressed in dapper clothing. The book goes on to reveal aspects of Marcel’s character from one spread to the next: He is a gourmand, he’s fastidious, he’s something of a clotheshorse; all combined, he’s a definite Renaissance pachyderm who takes interest in all that surrounds him. Narrative text reveals these attributes while illustrations and sidebar commentary detail his interests, belongings and such. On several spreads, one facing page is devoted to Marcel while the other broadens the scope of that spread’s particular focus—for example when readers learn of Marcel’s musical interests he stands with a tuba on the recto, while the verso seems like a catalog page with bordered entries on everything from a sitar to the bagpipes. The book as a whole ends up seeming like broad brushes at quirky worldbuilding or a book for perusing rather than reading as a story. The contents, while separately amusing, lack narrative cohesion and culminate in a recipe for “La crêpe marcelette (with banana!)”
Bananas, indeed. (glossary, designer key, cast of characters) (Picture book. 8-10)