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Leo Lionni

Leo Lionni: Celebrate the Brilliance

Gi Hallmark | The Children’s Book Review | June 23, 2014

Leo Lionni (1910 – 1999)

Leo Lionni

Leo Lionni

Leo Lionni’s works as a celebrated author and illustrator have elevated the standards on what it means to successfully utilize simplicity and sophistication to create the perfect picture book. Lionni balances his lush signature artwork and straightforward but complex narrative to create a beautiful balance in storytelling that draws readers into an imaginative world full of promise and reflection. Lionni himself said, “Inspirational raptures may happen, but most books are shaped through hard, disciplined work “. It is these perspectives which make the fact that Lionni wrote and illustrated over forty books, as a second career nonetheless, even more astounding and awe inspiring.

Lionni’s foray into the children’s book market happened serendipitously when he was 50 years old. During a ride on a commuter train with his grandchildren, he tore up a magazine into pieces to illustrate a story he told to entertain them.  This experience became the catalyst for Little Blue and Little Yellow, Lionni’s first book of many, including four Caldecott Honors: Inch by Inch, Frederick, Swimmy, and Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse.

Born in 1910 in the Netherlands, Lionni was surrounded by a family of artists and artisans in an era that placed a large emphasis on the arts as commentary for vast social, cultural, and political change. Between familial and societal artistic influences, Lionni seemed destined to enter a life of creative freedom. He moved to Italy and enjoyed a successful career in advertising before moving to the United States where he continued his career in ad design and art direction. His children’s book career began on that famously dull train ride with his grandchildren after he moved back to Italy around 1960. Lionni passed away in 1999 in Italy at the age of 89. In a lifetime that included many tangible accomplishment’s, Lionni’s devotion to consistently creating sincere, simple, and smart children’s books will arguably be his greatest career legacy.

Leo Lionni’s works continue to inspire readers, educators, authors, and artists all over the world. There are only a handful of writers who have made the long lasting and wide reaching impact that Lionni has through his “hard, disciplined work”.  As we mark the anniversary of a few of his publications, readers can celebrate the brilliance of Leo Lionni by enjoying special edition reprints of several favorites.

Tillie and the Wall by Leo LionniTillie and the Wall (The 25th Anniversary Edition)

By Leo Lionni

Tillie and the Wall was first published in 1986, a few years before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Lionni’s signature mice adorn the pages of this book in a setting where a group of mice are surrounded by a seemingly endless wall. Tillie has always wondered about what lies on the other side of the wall, she spends evenings awake while imagining the beautiful world that could inhabit the other side. After many failed attempts to scale and traverse around the wall, Tillie finds inspiration from a worm and realizes going under the wall is the answer. When she finally reaches the other side, Tillie discovers other mice, “regular mice,” who warmly welcome and celebrate Tillie. Tillie receives more recognition and gratitude from her mice friends after she and the “regular mice” cross under the wall to visit Tillie’s side.  The jovial mice now move freely from one side to the other and celebrate Tillie, who first showed all of them the way.

Ages 3-7 | Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers | January 2014 | ISBN: 978-0-394-82155-9

An Extraordinary Egg By Leo LionniAn Extraordinary Egg (The 20th Anniversary Edition)

By Leo Lionni

Three frogs live on Pebble Island and one of them, Jessica, is curious and adventurous. Jessica is known to explore and bring back treasures to the other two frogs, who are not easily impressed. During one of Jessica’s dubious expeditions, she finds an egg among a pile of rocks and triumphantly rolls it back to the other two, who declare it to be a chicken egg. Out of the egg hatches what is clearly an alligator, but still labeled a chicken by the unsuspecting frogs. The story continues with the humorous case of mistaken identity as Jessica and the “chicken” become inseparable friends. Finally, a bird appears and reunites the alligator with his mother, who has been desperately searching for him. Jessica and her frog friends share a good chuckle about their friend “chicken”, whose mother who calls “her alligator.”

Ages 3-7 | Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers | January 2014 | ISBN: 978-0-679-85840-9

Families with young readers may enjoy the Who? What? Where? When? series. More than 30 years after their first publication, Lionni’s famous playful, active mice return in colorful board book form to interact with readers.

Who? By Leo LionniWho?

By Leo Lionni

Readers are treated to an animal and characteristic on each page and are asked to identify the animal.

Ages 0-3 | Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers | January 2014 | ISBN: 978-0-385-75405-7

What? By Leo LionniWhat?

By Leo Lionni

From eyeglasses to cheese, Lionni’s mice are back to quiz readers on objects on each page.

Ages 0-3 | Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers | January 2014 | ISBN: 978-0-385-75406-4

Where? By Leo LionniWhere?

By Leo Lionni

Readers learn position words as Lionni’s active mice move from one location to another.

Ages 0-3 | Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers | January 2014 | ISBN: 978-0-385-75407-1

When? By Leo LionniWhen?

By Leo Lionni

Lionni’s mice help readers explore the concept of time and changing seasons.

Ages 0-3 | Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers | January 2014 | ISBN: 978-0-385-75408-8

Gi Hallmark, founder of The Children's Blog, is a freelance writer and mother of two lovely girls. She currently resides in Charlotte, NC, where she enjoys reading and reporting about a variety of children’s topics. For more information, visit: <a href="http://www.thechildrensblog.com">www.thechildrensblog.com</a> or follow <a href="https://twitter.com/thechildrnsblog">@thechildrnsblog</a> on Twitter.

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