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Big and Mighty: New Books for Younger Readers

laloucheThe Mighty Lalouche, by Matthew Olshan , illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Lalouche is a humble french postman with a yellow finch for a best friend. One day his boss pulls up in a fancy new electric autocar and tells Lalouche he’s been replaced, “A walking postman’s far too slow.” Poor little Lalouche, worried he will lose his rented room, spies an advertisement for the Bastille Boxing Club and turns up to fight. Though he is small he is quick, and her runs circles around his much larger opponents: the Piston, the Grecque, and Ampere. Finally, little Lalouche is ready to face the Undefeated Champion, The Anaconda! Author Matthew Olshan includes a terrific Author’s Note that explains that while this story is fiction, French boxing in Paris in the late nineteenth century was quite popular. A bit more like modern kickboxing than what American boxing, the sport favored speed and agility over brute strength, so a wily entrant like little Lalouche might have had great success. It is a lovely story of overcoming odds and finding a place in the world, but the true stars are the images. Illustrator Sophie Blackall captures the feel of Paris beautifully. Her boxing scenes are fantastic, with the oversized Anaconda looking ten times the size of our humble hero. (ages 4-8)

bigNow I’m Big!, by Karen Katz
Round and friendly faces tell the story of growing from a baby to a toddler. Each two-page spread compares “when I was a baby…” to “NOW I’M BIG!”: from crawling to running and jumping, from riding in a stroller to walking with Mommy, and from chewing on everything to playing with toys. Toddlers and preschoolers can see the differences between their baby lives and the lives they lead now. After moving to that big-kid bed, we see that now there’s a new baby sister in the family, and big sister helps with all those things she used to need when she was a baby. The positive big-sister message, the multicultural faces, and the large, repetitive text make this book terrific for the toddler and preschool set. (ages 1-5)

good-night-sleep-tightGood Night, Sleep Tight, by Mem Fox
Bonnie and Ben are home with their favorite babysitter, Skinny Doug. Doug tucks them in to bed and says, “good night, sleep tight. Hope the fleas don’t bite! If they do, squeeze ‘em tight and they won’t bite another night!” Tickled, the kids beg him to say it again. Instead, he tells them another rhyme, and another and another. They hear Pat-a-cake, This Little Piggy, and many others before Skinny Doug finally tells them once and for all, “good night, sleep tight.” These traditional rhymes, some well-known and others less-so, are imaginatively illustrated throughout. In Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, the three characters are shown as astronauts standing on top of a crescent moon. In This is the Way the Ladies Ride, there are so many horses that they ride right off the page. In her book Reading Magic, author Fox stated “Experts in literacy and child development have discovered that if children know eight nursery rhymes by heart by the time they’re four years old, they’re usually among the best readers by the time they’re eight.” The rhymes in this book provide a great start down that road. (ages 3-5)

AESOcover_web800pxAesop in California, by Doug Hansen
In this terrific compilation of Aesop’s Fables, Hansen has transported the traditional tales into beautiful California settings: the original African lion in The Lion and the Mouse is now a mountain lion; the fox of “sour grapes” fame roams through the vineyards of Napa; the city mouse lives in a house looking out on the Hollywood. Each story takes up just one page, which distills the stories to their essence and yet includes beautiful details about the California animals and settings. Setting The Tortoise and the Hare in the Mojave Desert allows Hansen to race a jackrabbit against a desert tortoise, and the course goes past cholla cactus to the finish line at a creosote bush. Maintaining the familiar morals, these stories fit almost seamlessly into the California setting, making them even more relatable for today’s California kids. (ages 4-8)


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