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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

From beloved Caldecott winning picture book creator Leo Lionni, this charming tale of sticking together and imagination shows how powerful friendship can be.

Two best friends, a minnow and a tadpole,...

Frederick (Step Into Reading, Step 3)

By: Leo Lionni

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


Geraldine, The Music Mouse

By: Leo Lionni

The cheerful celebration of art, music, and cheese from beloved four-time Caldecott Honor-winner Leo Lionni.

While nibbling at a huge hunk of parmesan cheese, Geraldine uncovers a cheese statue...

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

Four time Caldecott Honor winner Leo Lionni's beloved tale about three young frogs learning to work together.

Three selfish frogs live together on an island in the middle of Rainbow Pond. All day...


Let's Make Rabbits

By: Leo Lionni

A tale of two rabbits that celebrates creativity and crafting, from four-time Caldecott Honor winner Leo Lionni.

“Let's, make rabbits,” say the scissors to the pencil, and, before the...

Let's Play

By: Leo Lionni

A playful board book from four-time Caldecott Honor-winner Leo Lionni book for the very youngest readers!

“What shall we do today?” two mice ask each other. “Read a book? Pick...

Little Blue and Little Yellow

By: Leo Lionni

Beloved picture book creator and four-time Caldecott Honor-winner Leo Lionni's very first story for children, and a New York Times Best Illustrated Book of the Year.

Little Blue and Little Yellow...


Matthew's Dream

By: Leo Lionni

A cleverly told and beautifully illustrated tale of self-discovery from four-time Caldecott Honor winner Leo Lionni.

Matthew the mouse lives in a dreary corner of a dusty attic. But a trip to the...

Nicolas, Where Have You Been?

By: Leo Lionni

Caldecott Honor winner Leo Lionni's beloved fable about the benefits of being open minded.

When the young mouse Nicolas sets out across the great meadow alone in search of ripe red berries, he is...

Pezzettino

By: Leo Lionni

A classic fable about the search for identity, from Caldecott Honor winning picture book creator Leo Lionni.

Pezzettino lives in a world in which everyone is big and does daring and wonderful things....


Six Crows

By: Leo Lionni

The beloved farming fable from four-time Caldecott Honor winner 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...

Swimmy

By: Leo Lionni

The gorgeous, Caldecott Honor-winning tale of a very clever fish by beloved picture book creator Leo Lionni.

Deep in the sea lives a happy school of fish. Their watery world is full of wonders, but there...

The Alphabet Tree

By: Leo Lionni

From beloved Caldecott winning picture book creator Leo Lionni, this fable is about sticking together and sending a message of peace to those in charge.

When a fierce wind threatens to blow all...


The Biggest House in the World

By: Leo Lionni

The beloved fable about loving your home from four-time Caldecott Honor-winner Leo Lionni.

A young snail dreams of having the biggest house—or shell—in the world. Then one day, his wise...

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

From four-time Caldecott Honor-winner Leo Lionni, this classic fable is a quirky conversation-starter about honesty.

Theodore, a little mouse, lives with a lizard that can grow a new tail, a frog that can...


Tico and the Golden Wings

By: Leo Lionni

A classic fable encouraging generosity and individuality, from four-time Caldecott Honor-winner Leo Lionni.

Tico, a little bird born without wings, is one day granted his dearest wish. But the wings...

Tillie and the Wall

By: Leo Lionni

A timeless fable about unity and breaking down barriers, from four-time Caldecott Honor-winner Leo Lionni.

All her life Tillie the mouse has wondered what lies on the other side of the wall. Imagining...

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

The 50th anniversary of the gorgeous, Caldecott Honor-winning tale of a very clever fish by beloved picture book creator Leo Lionni.

Deep in the sea lives a happy school of fish. Their watery world is full...