Lessons from Leo Lionni

Every once in awhile you find an author that just clicks with your child. For E, one of our current favorites is Leo Lionni. His books appeal to both of us with  wonderful artwork and lessons. Without being pedantic, his books talk about issues of community and creativity, encouraging children to make the most of their world while also making the world a better place.

leo leoni

color of his ownA few weeks ago, we randomly pulled “A color of his own” off of our shelf. This sweet book is about a little chameleon who struggles with the fact that all of the other animals have a color of their own while he changes colors wherever he goes. He even tries to stay in one place so that he can stay one color, but picks a leave the changes colors with the season and then falls to the ground. When he meets another chameleon, he learns that true identity comes from who you are rather than what you look like. The world may change around you, but being true to yourself and embracing who you are makes you a happier person in the long run. What a beautiful sentiment.

alphabet treeSince I loved the message in his story and because E loved the artwork and the simplicity, we hunted down more books. The only other book that we own is the Alphabet Tree, which is above E’s level, but worth mentioning. This book teaches how letters come together to make words and how words come together to make sentences and how powerful our words and thoughts can be. The letters need to band together to form words so that they can stay on their tree when the wind blows, but they learn that a strong message will take them even further. The final message is one of peace. Truly beautiful and great to repeat to young children to place the crumb of the power of words in their heads.

We then hit the library and found some other gems…

fish is fish coverFish is Fish is a very cute story about a tadpole and a minnow who are inseparable. As the tadpole starts to change into a frog, the fish doesn’t understand because “how could you be a frog if only last night you were a little fish?” Then the frog goes away and experiences the world outside of the water. When he returns, he tells the fish all of the extraordinary things he has seen. The fish’s imagination runs wild and the illustrations that go with this are some of the best in the book. The fish can’t stop thinking of all the things above land and feels that he must go see them for himself, not thinking about the fact that he can’t breathe or move on land. Luckily the frog saves him when fish jumps out of the pond. Back in his home, fish realizes that he is surrounded by spectacular beauty of his own. Sometimes it is hard for children and adults to hear our friends’ experiences and not wish that we could do what they do, but Fish is Fish reminds us that finding happiness and making joy in our own worlds is the way to experience life.


Frederick_coverFrederick is a fabulous take on the classic Ant and the Grasshopper fable. Frederick is a mouse who lets all of the other members of his family do the work during the fall to keep them alive during the cold winter months. When they ask him why he isn’t helping, he always has some artistic response – “I gather sun rays for the cold dark winter days,” or “I gather words for when we run out of things to say.” Winter comes and when the mouse family does start to run out of food and grows tired of their boring surroundings they turn to Frederick and ask about his supplies. He paints images with words to bring warmth, color and beautiful poetry to their lives. One of many books by Leo Lionni that highlights how important the arts are.

frederick colors

matthews dreamIn the same vein, Matthew’s Dream is a story that explores art and the artist’s role in shaping our visions and our dreams. Young Matthew’s parents want him to get a good job and provide for them. One day he visits the art museum with his class for the first time and Matthew is blown away by what he sees. That night, he dreams that he is walking in an abstract painting. When he wakes up, he realizes that he wants to be an artist himself. Given the fact that we keep taking the arts out of our children’s education, this is a wonderful reminder of just how important art is.



If you are looking for some wonderful books that quietly teach lovely lessons to kids, definitely check out Leo Lionni.

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