Saturday, 15 May 2010

Leo Lionni

I discovered a new children's author.  New to me anyhow.

I saw in The New York Times book review section a small advertorial celebrating 100 years of Leo Lionni.   There were a few small illustrations of a very cute mouse and I was intrigued to find out more.

What a lovely story behind this author and illustrator. Lionni was born in 1910 and raised in Amsterdam, NL.  As an only child, Lionni had a real passion for nature and spent much of his time collecting all manner of bugs, beetles and butterflies, snails, mice, frogs, tadpoles, leaves, flowers, seed pods etc etc etc.  All stored in jars and terraniums in his bedroom.  These creatures eventually, many many years later, became the characters of his stories and beautifully illustrated books.

As a boy, Lionni lived in Amsterdam, Brussels, Philadelphia and Genoa, following his father's work around the world.  He married his true love Nora in 1931, and they had 2 sons.  However, life in Italy became more difficult, and questions were being asked of Lionni's heritage (his father was Jewish) during the build up to WWII.  He began preparing for his family to move back to the US.  He departed a short time ahead of his young family, and they were granted their visas just 12 days before Italy declared war.


Lionni made qutie a name for himself on arrival in the US, and became one of the top art directors in America, working on accounts for Ford and Chrysler,  and created the slogan "Never underestimate the power of a woman" for Ladies' Home Journal in merchandising and advertising.  In 1948, he became restless and made a move to New York to begin his own business.  He became the art director of Fortune magazine and had a life long association with Time / Life.  Read more about his wonderful career here.

He unexpectadly began writing and illustrating children's books at the age of 50, after making up a story for his small grandchildren, Pippo and Annie, using little coloured paper circles torn from a magazine.   During the next 35 years he published 40 books filled with characters from his childhood memories.  His little mice characters have names such as Tillie, Nicholas, Geraldine and Theodore.  His use of white space and simple modern designs were an inspiration to many other illustrators, including Eric Carle.


Eventually he retired to Italy with his wife Nora, and he continued to write many of his books there.  He found it hard to give up New York City altogether, and continued to split the year with 6 months in Manhattan and 6 in Tuscany.  He titled his biography "Between Two Worlds" - the US and Italy and art and commerce.   Leo Lionni died in 1999 aged 89.  In 2007 the Society of Illustrators awarded him a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award.


I am now off to Amazon to order a few of these lovely books.   We love the Eric Carle books, so these should be a perfect addition to the kiddos' collection.


  1. Thank you for the narration of a life full of achievements. I enjoyed reading it and the book collection was really attractive.

    Happy Sunday.

  2. Ooooh they look fab. I need to go to Amazon too.

  3. These look lovely. Thanks for the introduction.

  4. I am a big fan of Leo Lionni and his book, Swimmy is one of my favorites! He is a great artist!

  5. They look right up my street. Amazon are going to wonder why the sudden rush on these books!

  6. Great suggestion Victoria. We have been big fans of Eric Carle as well and the books Lionni look wonderful.

    Very insightful post!!


  7. I got "Swimmy" for my little one a few weeks ago! I'll try another one.

  8. I LOVE Leo Lionni. I grew up with Frederick the mouse (was it a mouse?). Thanks for the reminder, I think I want to order a book for little L now.


Thanks for stopping by.

Related Posts with Thumbnails