The Mighty Lalouche by Matthew Olshan
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
Lynn: Not only is The Mighty Lalouche (Schwartz & Wade 2013) a terrific underdog-makes-good story, it is a SHORT underdog-makes-good story. Even better! Kids are often the underdog and here’s a the story of a hero that will win the hearts of all, big and small.
In Paris there lived a small postman named Lalouche with his pet finch Genevieve. He was small and bony but he was also strong and fast and he loved being a postman. Then one day Lalouche went to work and learned that he was being replaced by a fleet of electric autocars! Sacre Bleu’! What to do? Voilà – there on a poster was the answer! The Bastille Boxing Club was seeking sparring partners and Lalouche stepped up. The manager laughed, the boxers laughed but, quelle surprise, Lalouche was too nimble, too fast and too strong! He beat them all from the Anaconda to Old Shatterhand, and Lalouche never lost a match. But Lalouche missed being a mailman and when his old boss called and begged him to return, he happily traded in his boxing gloves for his old uniform.
The text is wonderful to read aloud as it flows with the rhythmic sense of the French language and is peppered with French vocabulary that is a delight to say and is easily understood. (In case of confusion there is a short glossary on the title page.) An Author’s Note explains La Boxe Francaise, the style of boxing in France that allowed the use of the feet and favored agility and speed over strength.
Sophie Blackall’s illustrations are a marvel and I absolutely adore them but I have to leave something for Cindy to write about so I’ll leave that to her. I DO want to mention the extraordinary attention to design detail that even began with the review copy packaging! It arrived wrapped in heavy brown paper, stamped with the word “Paris” and a picture of the Eiffel Tower. A tiny envelope was attached and a larger one, complete with a thick red wax seal and cancelled French stamp. Inside was a postcard with a drawing of Lalouche carrying a 3-dimensional letter and a wonderful description of how the book came to be and her artistic process from Sophie Blackall. I can’t bring myself to throw any of it away and am treasuring it all. I think when I take this to share with a class, I’ll wrap it all up again and make opening the package part of the fun.
Cindy: I saw the packaging that Lynn’s copy arrived in and it was a treat. I glanced at the info but she hasn’t released her grip on any of it (quelle surprise!) so I had to go looking online for information about Blackall’s illustrations. One year at BEA she had a chance meeting with Olshan and mentioned that she is a fan of vintage boxing cards. A book idea was born. She felt the need to go to Paris to research the illustrations. Terrible. Oh, my. Check this out:
Back in the studio, I fell headlong into research. But when it came to making the first sketches, I found the images to be frustratingly two dimensional. I wanted to feel you could step into Lalouche’s world. I also wanted to try something I’d never done before, and with a perverse desire to complicate things, I decided to make the book in tatebanko, Japanese paper dioramas. I drew, painted, and cut out thousands of tiny pieces of paper to make Parisian streets and boxing-ring crowds and Lalouche’s cozy apartment. Often I sneezed and lost a bunch and had to start all over again.
You don’t want to miss her blog entry for the making of The Mighty LaLouche. The process is worth looking at and reading about. You really need to get your hands on this book to appreciate it fully. Visit your local bookstore NOW or perhaps order one and have your mailman bring it to your door.
Full disclosure: My paternal grandmother worked for a tiny post office in Collins, NY after retiring from teaching. We spent decades mailing letters back and forth to each other and she always sent me commemorative stamps so I would have pretty stamps to use. I had sealing wax (still do), piles of stickers, and drawers of stationery. Every New Year’s I renew my pledge to write more letters. They are so much better than email. I miss my grandmother fiercely, but her love of letter writing will never leave me. I challenge our Bookends readers to write a letter, decorate the envelope, and send it off this week, s’il vous plaît. Think of how many people we could cheer with some fun mail if everyone did this! C’est magnifique! Leave us a comment here if you send a letter out. It would cheer me. Oh, and let me know if you want my address. My mailbox is lonely.