Leo Lionni Books

Book Reviews - Books for Building Your Library

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Leo Lionni published forty books for children as well as creating paintings, sculptures, collages, drawings, mosaics, designs, posters, and advertisements. Roberta Gardner eloquently reviews some of his best-loved titles, as well as some you may not know.

The Alphabet Tree

This classic by Leo Lionni cleverly illustrates the balance between managing the code of letters and then making sure that those letters say something "important." For children who are both learning how the print system works and considering the messages they want to communicate, this book offers a lovely opportunity to consider the parallel challenges of reading and writing. In the story, the letters first gather in random clusters, until a friend suggests they should organize themselves into words and even sentences. Finally, an insightful onlooker lets them know that it isn't enough to just say something; they must say something "important." Read this book to show your students why we write in the first place.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

The Snowy Day

We are excited to feature this classic book in our next issue, themed "Less is More." This winner of the 1963 Caldecott was a trailblazing book, one of the first children's books that featured an African-American boy as its hero. Keats uses illustrations made with cut-outs, watercolors and collage to share a simple story about humble adventures. This book clearly illustrates the philosophy of "less is more" with its unique and special story about a winter wonderland.

On My Beach There are Many Pebbles

The pebbles on the beach "are strange and wonderful." They are unique; some are smooth and round, others are angular, oblong, and ridged. The cadence of this book is gentle, just like the shore where the wondrous jewels of the ocean wash onto the beach. This Lionni text is spare and simple, and each of pebbles he crafts, using variable lines and shading, are unique in form and figure. Some of pebbles have faces and expressions and each one tells its own tale. Mr. Lionni shows a reverence for nature in his work. And through his brilliant artistry in this book, we are reminded that nature is a playground full of friends.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +


Lionni creates an awe-inspiring mosaic of vibrant images in this tale about a pezzettino, or "little piece," a small orange cube that lives amongst towering multi-colored squares. They appear large and in charge and Pezzettino comes to believe that he must be an appendage to the others; however, he soon comes to understand that "he belongs to no one but himself." This Lionni story is a wondrous celebration of uniqueness and a reminder of the importance of appreciating the power of one.

Matthew's Dream

After a visit to an art museum, the menagerie of colors and shapes that a little mouse observes dance into his dreams and soon become his reality. When you close the pages of this Lionni treasure, it will not be easy for you to forget the stunning kaleidoscope of images swirling about page after page. Like the little mouse in the story, your heart and mind will be filled with inspiration and a reminder of the importance of pursuing our dreams and the ways we might keep them alive.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

Inch by Inch

Inch by inch, a tiny green worm arches between variegated blades of grass and is surprised by a hungry robin. But never fear -- the worm is ever so clever and convinces the robin that she has skills and talents that could be of use to the robin, specifically measuring. Using a palette right out of Mother Nature's swatch book, Lionni creates crisp images that have rhythm and poise. What a pleasure it is to witness the little worm scale the gangling legs of the heron, and the colorful thick-billed beak of the toucan. The best part is witnessing the worm outsmart the impudent nightingale. Leo Lionni won a Caldecott Honor for this book in 1961 and nearly 50 years later it continues to be a treasured favorite.


Corn, nuts, wheat, and straw are certainly staples that will nourish the appetites of Fredrick's family during the bleak wintry months that lie ahead. While the others are storing up tangible rations for the winter, Fredrick is absorbed in dreams. Fredrick appears indolent as he soaks up the "golden glow" of the sun, gradients of colors that paint the landscape, and sounds that sing the tunes of spring and summer, but he is actually helping his family. Months later, when all of the mice are hovering in their den and the food has dwindled, Fredrick feeds the hearts and minds of his family with melodious words conjured up from the memories he's stored. Lionni stimulates our senses with his magnificent textual collages and spare text that deliver a poignant message about the power of individual gifts and the need to nurture the imagination.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

Fish is Fish

Fish and tadpole are grand friends who spend their days floating about in the blue and green waters of a pond. After the tadpole transforms into a frog, he leaves his friend and life in the pond behind. When the frog returns to the bank he tells the fish fantastical stories about his new world. Fish becomes envious and imagines a more colorful existence. Lionni creates a symphony of whimsical mixed-media images saturated with vibrant hues and a priceless message about self acceptance, and the pleasure of inhabiting one's own natural environment.

Between Worlds

Leo Lionni loved words, and this affection shows in his autobiography, Between Worlds. Divided into four sections with each encompassing a couple of decades of his life, this picture-filled volume will thoroughly introduce you to the many dimensions of Lionni's life and work. Enjoy personal anecdotes, family histories, and the stories behind his stories. This autobiography presents the life of an extraordinary man whose creative heart shaped every aspect of his life.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

Parallel Botany

Explore yet another dimension to Leo Lionni's work as he steps into the imaginary and scientific, creating a comprehensive field guide to a botany he invents. With unbelievable authenticity of style and cohesiveness, yet with a steady current of wry humor, this book defies genre. You will find this an exhaustive resources on a science born of creativity and enjoy the photographs of giants in the imaginary field, as well as Lionni's detailed scientific drawings of specimens. Bizarrely funny and compellingly original!