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Friday, March 2, 2012

Spotlight on Leo Leonni: Illustrator and Author

Leo Leonni has long been a favorite author-illustrator of our entire family.  We love his fables and his distinctive artwork -- bold, beautiful collages.  When my daughter Emmalie was about two years old, she was a HUGE fan, and we ended up checking out every single book of Leonni's from the library.  (We've bought a few of the books over the years, too.)

Somewhere in our house we have copies of Alexander and the Wind Up Mouse and An Extraordinary Egg.  Despite quite a bit of frantic searching, however, I have not found them yet.  (Yes, it's probably time for some spring cleaning!) Here are the Leonni books I did find, in our house and at the library:

Little Blue and Little Yellow, 1959...  While on an outing with his two young grandchildren, Lionni made up this story (using scraps of paper he tore from a magazine) to keep them occupied.  Later, he turned the story into his first book!

Little Blue and Little Yellow are best friends, and when they hug each other, they make green!

Inch by Inch, 1960...  An inchworm measures a robin's tail, a flamingo's neck, and much more... but can he measure a nightingale's song?

Swimmy, 1963...  The sea is filled with wonders, but the little fish are afraid to come out of hiding and enjoy the world around them.  Swimmy teaches them how to work together and keep each other safe.

This is probably my favorite of all of Leonni's creations (though Frederick, seen below, runs a close second!):

Fish is Fish, 1970... A fish and tadpole become good friends, but when the tadpole turns into a frog, he leaves the pond to explore the world.  When he returns and tells his friend about all the wondrous things he's seen, the fish decides he wants to see them with his own eyes....

Theodore and the Talking Mushroom, 1971...  Theodore the mouse doesn't think he has any special talents like his friends do.  When he discovers a mushroom that says "Quirp!", he convinces his friends that he caused it to talk.  From then on, Theodore's treated like a king!  But what will happen if the other animals find out the truth?

I read this book to my boys the other night.  They loved it... right up until the end!  They both thought the ending (which, admittedly, does not reach a happy conclusion for Theodore) was "awful".

Frederick, 1973... While the other mice gather food for the winter, Frederick gathers his own supplies -- words -- to feed their spirits when it turns cold and dark and dreary.

Of all Leonni's books, this one was Emmalie's favorite back when she was two.  (And when she saw I'd checked it out from the library last month, she gasped and said, "Frederick!  I love that book!!")  She has always loved the poem that the mouse poet recites toward the end, and had the entire thing memorized as a toddler!

I have loved this book for many years, too.  I distinctly remember my elementary school librarian reading it to our class.  Its message about the power of words has always stuck with me. :)

A Color of His Own, 1975... A chameleon wishes he had a color all his own, like other animals do.

Six Crows, 1988...  The crows and a farmer both lay claim to a field of wheat, and must learn (from an owl) how to compromise.

To find out more about Leo Leonni and his creations, check out the 100 Years of Leo Leonni website.  The site offers some fun activities for young kids, as well.  Be sure to check out his books at your library and local book store, too!

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