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Leo Lionni

“From time to time, from the endless flow of our mental imagery, there emerges unexpectedly something that, vague though it may be, seems to carry the promise of a form, a meaning, and, more important, an irresistible poetic charge.”—Leo Lionni

Leo Lionni wrote and illustrated more than 40 highly acclaimed children’s books. He received the 1984 American Institute of Graphic Arts Gold Medal and was a four-time Caldecott Honor Winner—for Inch by Inch, Frederick, Swimmy, and Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse. Leo Lionni died in October of 1999 at his home in Tuscany, Italy, at the age of 89.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

“Of all the questions I have been asked as an author of children’s books, the most frequent one, without doubt, has been ‘How do you get your ideas?’ Most people seem to think that getting an idea is both mysterious and simple. Mysterious, because inspiration must come from a particular state of grace with which only the most gifted souls are blessed. Simple, because ideas are expected to drop into one’s mind in words and pictures, ready to be transcribed and copied in the form of a book, complete with endpapers and cover. The word get expresses these expectations well. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.

“It is true that, from time to time, from the endless flow of our mental imagery, there emerges unexpectedly something that, vague though it may be, seems to carry the promise of a form, a meaning, and, more important, an irresistible poetic charge. The sense of instant recognition with which we pull this image into the full light of our consciousness is the initial impulse of all creative acts. But, though it is important, it produces no more than the germ of an idea. Each book, at the birth of its creative history, has such a moment. Some are fortunate enough to have, from the outset, a strongly identified hero, one with an inescapable destiny. Others are blessed with a promising beginning, or perhaps with the vision of an ending (which means working backwards to a surprise opening). Others stem from a clearly articulated conflict situation. Sometimes, I must admit, the motivations of a book may be found in a sudden, unreasonable urge to draw a certain kind of crocodile. And it may even happen that in the dark of our minds there appears, out of nowhere, a constellation of words that has the bright, arrogant solidity of a title. Only last night I was jolted out of a near-slumber by the words the mouse that didn’t exist. I am sure that, temporarily tucked away in my memory, they will eventually become the title of a story for which as yet I have no idea.

“To shape and sharpen the logic of a story, to tighten the flow of events, ultimately to define the idea in its totality, is much like a game of chess. In the light of overall strategy, each move is the result of doubts, proposals, and rejections, which inevitably bring to mind the successes or failures of previous experiences.

“Inspirational raptures may happen, but most books are shaped through hard, disciplined work. Creative work, to be sure, because its ingredients come from the sphere of the imaginary. But the manipulation of these ingredients requires much more than mere inclination or talent. It is an intricate process in which the idea slowly takes form, by trial and error, through detours and side roads, which, were it not for the guidance of professional rigor, would lead the author into an inextricable labyrinth of alternatives.

“And so, to the question ‘How do you get your ideas?’ I am tempted to answer, unromantic though it may sound, ‘Hard work.’ ”


Leo Lionni has gained international renown for his paintings, graphic designs, illustrations, and sculpture, as well as for his books for children. He was born in Holland in 1910 of Dutch parents, and although his education did not include formal art courses (in fact, he has a doctorate in economics from the University of Genoa), he spent much of his free time as a child in Amsterdam’s museums, teaching himself to draw.

Lionni’s business training gradually receded into the background as his interest in art and design grew. Having settled in Milan soon after his marriage in 1931, he started off by writing about European architecture for a local magazine. It was there that he met the contacts who were to give him a start as a professional graphic designer. When he moved to America in 1939, Lionni was hired by a Philadelphia advertising agency as art director. Later he became design director for the Olivetti Corporation of America, and then art director for Fortune magazine. At the same time, his reputation as an artist flourished as he began to exhibit his paintings and drawings in galleries from New York to Japan.

Lionni launched his career as an author/illustrator of books for children in 1959. Originally developed from a story he had improvised for his grandchildren during a dull train ride, Little Blue and LittleYellow was the first of what is now a long list of children’s picture books, including four Caldecott Honor Books.


PRAISE

SWIMMY

—An ALA Notable Children’s Books
—A New York Times Best Illustrated Books of the Year
—A Caldecott Honor Book

“An exquisite picture book. A little fish, the lone survivor of a school of fish swallowed by a tuna, devises a plan to camouflage himself and his new companions.”—Starred, School Library Journal.


FREDERICK

—A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
—An ALA Notable Children’s Book
—A Library of Congress Children’s Book of the Year
—A New York Times Best Illustrated Book of the Year
—A Caldecott Honor Book

“While other mice are gathering food for the winter, Frederick seems to daydream the summer away. When dreary winter comes, it is Frederick the poet-mouse who warms his friends and cheers them with his words.”—Wilson Library Bulletin

“A splendid achievement.”—Starred, School Library Journal


LEO LIONNI’S LITTLE MICE TALES

“If the picture book is a new visual art form in our time, Leo Lionni is certain to be judged a master of the genre.”—The New York Times


Author Bookshelf

A Color of His Own

By: Leo Lionni

Elephants are gray. Pigs are pink. Only the chameleon has no color of his own. He is purple like the heather, yellow like a lemon, even black and orange striped like a tiger! Then one day a chameleon has an idea...

Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse (Step Into Reading, Step 3)

By: Leo Lionni

Leo Lionni’s Caldecott Honor–winning story about the magic of friendship is now available as a Step 3 Step into Reading book—perfect for children who are ready to read on their own.
 
...

An Extraordinary Egg

By: Leo Lionni

Leo Lionni’s popular story about an alligator who gets confused with a chicken is now available as a Step 3 Step into Reading book—perfect for children who are ready to read on their own!


Colors, Numbers, Letters

By: Leo Lionni

Leo Lionni's playful mice present the three most basic early-learning concepts in one irresistible board book. Cheerful collage mice prance across the pages as they identify the colors of the rainbow. They make...

Fish Is Fish

By: Leo Lionni

Frederick

By: Leo Lionni

While the other field mice work to gather grain and nuts for winter, Frederick sits on a sunny rock by himself. “I gather sun rays for the cold dark winter days,” he tells them. Another day he gathers...


Geraldine, The Music Mouse

By: Leo Lionni

While nibbling at a huge hunk of parmesan cheese, Geraldine uncovers a cheese statue of a mouse playing what seems to be a flute but on closer inspection is really its tail. That night Geraldine is woken...

Inch by Inch

By: Leo Lionni

This was the first of four Caldecott Honor Books by Leo Lionni. Published in 1960 and virtually out of print in hardcover for decades, Knopf acquired the hardcover rights from the original publisher just...

It's Mine!

By: Leo Lionni

Three selfish frogs live together on an island in the middle of Rainbow Pond. All day long they bicker: It’s mine! It’s mine! It’s mine! But a bad storm and a big brown toad help them...


Let's Make Rabbits

By: Leo Lionni

“Let's, make rabbits,” say the scissors to the pencil, and, before the reader’s eyes, two rabbits appear—one drawn by the pencil, the other cut from brightly patterned paper by...

Let's Play

By: Leo Lionni

Here is a Leo Lionni book for the very youngest! “What shall we do today?” two mice ask each other. “Read a book? Pick flowers? Go swimming? Play ball? Climb a tree or gather leaves?...

Little Blue and Little Yellow

By: Leo Lionni

Little Blue and Little Yellow are best friends, but one day they can’t find each other. When they finally do, they give each other such a big hug that they turn green! How they find their true colors...


Matthew's Dream

By: Leo Lionni

Matthew the mouse lives in a dreary corner of a dusty attic. But a trip to the museum helps him to see his surroundings in a new way. With brush in paw, Matthew sets out to paint “the shapes and...

Nicolas, Where Have You Been?

By: Leo Lionni

When the young mouse Nicolas sets out across the great meadow alone in search of ripe red berries, he is grabbed up by the claws of a huge bird and carried high into the sky. But that is only the beginning of Nicolas's...

Pezzettino

By: Leo Lionni

Pezzettino lives in a world in which everyone is big and does daring and wonderful things. But he is small, just a “little piece,” which is the meaning of pezzettino in Italian. “I must be a piece...


Six Crows

By: Leo Lionni

While a farmer tends his field of wheat, six hungry crows watch and wait in a nearby tree. When the wheat ripens, the farmer builds a scarecrow to frighten them off, but these ingenious crows are not so...

Swimmy

By: Leo Lionni

Deep in the sea there lives a happy school of little fish. Their watery world is full of wonders, but there is also danger, and the little fish are afraid to come out of hiding . . . until Swimmy comes along. Swimmy...

The Alphabet Tree

By: Leo Lionni

When a fierce wind threatens to blow all the little letters out of the alphabet tree, they must band together in words—and then sentences—to create a message that’s even stronger than...


The Biggest House in the World

By: Leo Lionni

A young snail dreams of having the biggest house—or shell—in the world. Then one day, his wise father tells him the story of another snail with the same dream. He grew and grew, adding bright...

The Greentail Mouse

By: Leo Lionni

Originally published in 1973, this is the offbeat fable of a city mouse who visits his peaceful country cousins and tells them about Mardi Gras in the city. The country mice are inspired to have their own Mardi...

Theodore and the Talking Mushroom

By: Leo Lionni

Theodore, a little mouse, lives with a lizard that can grow a new tail, a frog that can swim underwater, and a turtle that can close up like a box. But Theodore has no special talents of his own. When he discovers...


Tico and the Golden Wings

By: Leo Lionni

Tico, a little bird born without wings, is one day granted his dearest wish. But the wings he gets are made of gold and his bird friends turn against him. “You think you are better than we are,” they say....

Tillie and the Wall

By: Leo Lionni

All her life Tillie the mouse has wondered what lies on the other side of the wall. Imagining all sorts of fantastic possibilities, she digs a tunnel to get to the other side, where she discovers . . ....

What?

By: Leo Lionni

From a ringing telephone to a pair of eyeglasses to a wedge of cheese, Leo Lionni's signature illustration style and a toddler-friendly text ask a simple question: What is the object on this page? One...


When?

By: Leo Lionni

From sunup to sundown, winter through fall, Leo Lionni's signature illustration style and a toddler-friendly text ask a simple question: When is time of day/season? One of four board books that celebrates...

Where?

By: Leo Lionni

From high up in a tree, to inside a shoe and outside of a mouse hole, Leo Lionni's signature illustration style and a toddler-friendly text ask a simple question: Where is the mouse on each page? One of...

Who?

By: Leo Lionni

From squirrels to turtles to prickly porcupines, Leo Lionni's signature illustration style and a toddler-friendly text ask a simple question: Who is the animal on each page? One of four board books that...


Swimmy 50th Anniversary Edition

By: Leo Lionni

Deep in the sea lives a happy school of fish. Their watery world is full of wonders, but there is also danger, and the little fish are afraid to come out of hiding . . . until Swimmy comes along. Swimmy shows...

Leo Lionni's 123: A Lift-the-Flap Counting Book

By: Leo Lionni

Introduce your child to numbers and counting concepts with this irresistible lift-the-flap book from the award-winning Leo Lionni!
 
How many chicks? How many mice? Lift the flaps to count...

Leo Lionni's Paint Box: A Lift-the-Flap Color Book

By: Leo Lionni

Introduce your toddler to color concepts with this irresistible lift-the-flap book from the award-winning Leo Lionni!
 
I am blue. I am yellow. Together we make. . . . Lift the flaps to...