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Leo Lionni. “A Tried and True Author” LIS 60629: Summer 2009 Beth Brendle. Leo Lionni: Biography. Personal Information Born in Amsterdam, Holland, on May 5, 1910 No formal art education Practiced drawing at the Rijksmuseum Doctorate in Economics from the Un. of Genoa

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leo lionni

Leo Lionni

“A Tried and True Author”

LIS 60629: Summer 2009

Beth Brendle

leo lionni biography

Leo Lionni: Biography

Personal Information

Born in Amsterdam, Holland, on May 5, 1910

No formal art education

Practiced drawing at the Rijksmuseum

Doctorate in Economics from the Un. of Genoa

Married Nora Maffi in 1931

Had two sons: Louis and Paolo

Emigrated to US in 1939

Traveled extensively between the US and Europe

Settled in Italy at age 50

Wrote Parallel Botany in 1977

Wrote his autobiography, Between Two Worlds, in 1997

Died in Tuscany, Italy, on October 11,1999, at age 89

Writer, Teacher, Sculptor, Artist, Designer

graphic arts career one of the 20th century s most influential graphic designers sundell
Graphic Arts Career”one of the 20th-century's most influential graphic designers”(Sundell)
  • Art director for Motta in Italy
  • Art Director: N. W. Ayer advertising agency
  • Design Director for the Olivetti Corporation of America
  • Art Director: Time/Life
  • Art Director: Fortune
  • Co-Editor: Print Magazine
  • Layout creator for

Sports Illustrated

  • Designed “Family of Man” exhibit

catalog, Museum of Modern Art

Lionni’s Autobiography

children s book author illustrator
Children’s Book Author & Illustrator
  • Lionni wrote more than 40 children’s books, all after the age of 50!
  • FABLES: Many of Lionni’s books are fables, complete with talking animals, basic plots, and a clear moral.
  • Some of his books, including The Alphabet Tree, have been criticized for being too didactic, political, and/or religious and not geared toward children.
  • Lionni is known for his vivid textured collages of torn paper.
  • Praised for simple yet meaningful text wedded to the illustrations, many of Lionni’s works are true picture books.
lionni s innovative style
Lionni’s InnovativeStyle

“A technique of filling the picture area with large, simple shapes

without overwhelming or cluttering it is a Lionni trademark, as is his use of white backgrounds, cropping, and carefully informal arrangement of objects within the picture plane.” (Potts)

  • “preoccupation with textures and special effects”
  • torn paper technique
  • “boldness of style”
  • “deft and humorous moral messages”
  • influenced by Futurism, Surrealism & Expressionism
  • desire to achieve coherence between form and content
  • “a deep concern for quality” (Potts)

“I have the feeling that if you are very thorough

and put love and care into a thing

it will come out well somehow.”

Leo Lionni

nature s influence
Nature’s Influence

Lionni was fascinated by nature;

his books depict natural worlds filled with animal characters, flora and fauna, and a variety of rocks, stones, and shells.

Lionni had a terrarium as a child; in it he kept stones, shells, frogs, and

salamanders. He created a little world for his creatures.

The influence of nature can be seen in his children’s books as well as in his drawings, sculpture, and writings.

“The relationship between nature and man

is at the core of his work.” (Sundell)

major awards
Major Awards

Caldecott Honor Books

Inch by Inch 1961

Frederick 1968

Swimmy 1964

Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse 1970

American Institute of

Graphic Arts

Gold Medal, 1984

the christopher award children s book category 1970
The Christopher AwardChildren’s Book Category 1970

“First presented in 1949, the Christopher Awards were established by Christopher founder Father James Keller to salute media that ‘affirm the highest values of the human spirit.’ Their goal is to encourage men, women and children to pursue excellence in creative arenas that have the potential to influence a mass audience positively. Award winners encourage audiences to see the better side of human nature and motivate artists and the general public to use their best instincts on behalf of others. “



Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse

biennial of illustrations bratislava bib golden apple award 1967 for swimmy
Biennial of Illustrations Bratislava – (BIB)Golden Apple Award 1967 for Swimmy

This award is given by the Ministry of Culture of the Slovak Republic and UNESCO. It recognizes the best children’s illustrations worldwide. The main winners have their artwork put on stamps. (http://www.bibiana.sk/bib_en.html)

Swimmy was the first picture book by an

American illustrator to win.

little blue and little yellow
LittleBlueandLittle Yellow

Leo Lionni’s first children’s book was created in 1959

in an attempt to entertain his grandchildren

during a train ride.

“To entertain them, he tore little bits of colored papers from Life magazine and made a magical story. Lionni returned home, he placed what he'd done into a book dummy. Fabio Coen, who had just become children's book editor of Obolensky Inc., published it as ‘Little Blue and Little Yellow,’ and Lionni became a picture book author.” (AIGA)

Style: The simple torn paper collage was innovative in 1959.

Themes: This story teaches children not

to judge by appearance. It also makes kids

think about individuality vs. conformity.

This book is often used by art teachers

to teach color combining.

inch by inch
Inch by Inch

PLOT: A clever inch worm saves himself by measuring his predators’ necks, tails, and legs. When the nightingale asks him to measure his song, the inch worm keeps measuring until he is out of harm’s way.

ART: “Illustrated in richly textured collage and crayon against a white background, Inch by Inch combines lavish surface texture with careful page layout and dramatic design.” (Potts)

THEME: This book teaches children to be clever problem-solvers.


PLOT: Frederick’s family prepares for the winter by

collecting food while Frederick collects sun rays,

colors, and words. After all the supplies run out in the harsh winter, Frederick nourishes his family with an artist’s gifts: stories, colors, and emotions.

ART: The collage illustrations are in soft browns and grays. The mice are made of torn-paper and are set “against the clean edges and textures of the background.” (Potts)

THEMES: This book teaches children that the artist is an important part of society.

Lionni’s first mouse-hero

“Frederick’s story is one of the progression from feelings

to images and finally to words . . . .” (Potts)


PLOT: Like the inch worm, Swimmy must be clever in order to survive. He organizes a school of small fish into a group resembling a large fish so that predators will stay away.

ART: “Swimmy’s undersea world is composed of highly textured watercolor washes and prints that create an impressionistic underwater locale.” (Potts)

THEMES:This book teaches children to be resourceful, to be leaders,

and to never give up. It also teaches that there is safety in numbers.

alexander and the wind up mouse
Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse

PLOT: Alexander is a lonely mouse who befriends a mechanical mouse, Willy. Alexander is jealous of Willy because the children love their toy, while Alexander is despised. He wants to be a toy too until he finds a broken and discarded Willy. With the help of a magic lizard, Willy becomes a real mouse.

ART: “brightly colored, bold designs set against black and white backgrounds. . . spectacular.

. . . a flat, posterlike effect” (Potts).

THEMES: The story teaches children not to be envious of others, to appreciate themselves, and to believe in the power of love and friendship.





  • Alexander and the Wind-up Mouse
  • The Alphabet Tree
  • The Biggest House in the World
  • A Busy Year
  • A Color of His Own
  • Colors to Talk About
  • Cornelius: A Fable
  • An Extraordinary Egg
  • Fish is Fish
  • A Flea Story
  • Frederick
  • Geraldine, the Music Mouse
  • The Greentail Mouse
  • I Want to Stay Here! I Want to Go There!: A Flea Story
  • In the Rabbitgarden
  • Inch by Inch
  • It's Mine
  • Let's Make Rabbits: A Fable
  • Let's Play
  • Letters to Talk About
  • Little Blue and Little Yellow
  • Matthew's Dream
  • Mouse Days: A Book of Seasons




  • Mr. McMouse
  • Nadarin
  • Nicolas, Where Have You Been?
  • Numbers to Talk About"
  • On My Beach There are Many Pebbles
  • Pezzettino
  • Pouce Par Pouce
  • Prohibido a Los Gatos!
  • Pulgada a Pulgada
  • Six Crows: A Fable
  • Swimmy
  • Theodore and the Talking Mushroom
  • Tico and the Golden Wings
  • Tillie and the Wall
  • Tili Y El Muro
  • Una Piedra Extraordinaria
  • What?: Pictures to Talk About
  • When?: Pictures to Talk About
  • Where?: Pictures to Talk About
  • Who?: Pictures to Talk About
  • Words to Talk About

Leo Lionni Resources

Agree, Rose H. “We Meet Leo Lionni.” Top of the News 19 (Oct 1962): 65-67.

Bumiller, Elisabeth. “A Mind Full of Frogs, Mice and Snails Grow Riper.” New York Times 4 Sept. 1997.

Cahn, Annabelle Simon. “Leo Lionni, Artist and Philosopher.” Children’s

Literature 2 (1973): 123-129. Project Muse. John Hopkins

University Press 2009. 12 July 2009. [OhioLink]


Coen, Fabio. “Leo Lionni.” Library Journal 89 (15 March 1964): 100.

Cullinan, Bernice E., and Diane Goetz Person, ed. “Lionni, Leo.” The

Continuum Encyclopedia of Children's Literature. Continuum

International Publishing Group, 2003. 12 July 2009.


Evans, Dily. “Leo Lionni.” Book Links (Mar 1995): 4. 4.

McCall, Bruce. “An Old-Fashioned Modernist: Between Two Worlds: The

Autobiography of Leo Lionni.” New York Times Book Reviews. 18 May 1997. 13.

McCann, Donnarae, and Olga Richard. The Child’s First

Books: A Critical Study of Pictures and Texts. New York: Wilson,

1973. 58 -59.


McQuade, Molly. “The Year of Leo Lionni.” Book Links (May 1998): 7. 5.

“Medalists.” AIGA (The American Institute of Graphic Artists). 1984

5 July 2009. http://www.aiga.org/content.cfm/medalist-leolionni

Paley, Vivian Gusin. “The Mouse that Roared.” School Library Journal

(Jan 2000): 46 – 49. [EBSCO] 2003. 5 July 2009.


Potts, Lesley S. “Leo(nard) Lionni.” American Writers for Children Since

1960: Poets, Illustrators, and Nonfiction Authors. Ed. Glenn

E. Estes. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol 61. Detroit:

Gale Research, 1987. [Columbus Metropolitan Library] 6 July

2009. http://go.galegroup.com.webproxy- prod.columbuslibrary.org/ps/start.do?p=LitRG&u=cmlweb.

Simon Cahn, Annabelle. "Leo Lionni, Artist and Philosopher." Children's

Literature 2.1 (2009), 123-129.

Sundell, Nina Castelli. “Leo Lionni: Drawings.” Exhibit at Lehman

University 1990. 13 July 2009. http://www.lehman.edu/vpadvance/artgallery/gallery/leo lionni/lionni sundell essay.html



Leo Lionni Articles

Lionni, Leo. “Before Images.” Horn Book 60 (Nov/Dec 1984): 727-734.

Lionni, Leo. “My Books for Children.” Wilson Library Bulletin 39 (October

1964): 142-145.