“A Tried and True Author”
LIS 60629: Summer 2009
Leo Lionni: Biography
• 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)
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
Designed “Family of Man” exhibit
catalog, Museum of Modern Art
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
“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.”
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)
American Institute of
Gold Medal, 1984
Caldecott Honor Books
Inch by Inch 1961
Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse 1970
The Christopher Award
Children’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
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
Swimmy was the first picture book by an
American illustrator to win.
Little Blue and Little 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
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
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
THEMES: This book teaches children that the artist
Lionni’s first mouse-hero is an important part of society.
“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.”
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
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
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
• Alexander and the Wind-up Mouse
• The Alphabet Tree Lionni’s
• The Biggest House in the World
• A Busy Year Children’s
• A Color of His Own
• Colors to Talk About Books
• Cornelius: A Fable
• An Extraordinary Egg
• Fish is Fish
• A Flea Story
• 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
Nicolas, Where Have You Been?
Numbers to Talk About"
On My Beach There are Many Pebbles
• Pouce Par Pouce
• Prohibido a Los Gatos!
• Pulgada a Pulgada
• Six Crows: A Fable
• 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
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
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.
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