Leo Lionni

2 Dec

We’ve been reading the heck out of Little Blue and Little Yellow at our house lately. The illustrations and the story are so simple. My daughter and I can’t get enough of it, which isn’t always the case (at least on my end) regarding bedtime stories.

A few days ago, one of my advanced students gave an especially good biographical presentation on the author and illustrator of Little Blue and Little Yellow: Lio Lionni. I learned that Lionni actually conceived the book in 1959 while riding on a train with his two young grandchildren, who were starting to act up. Recalling the experience, Lionni wrote: ‘I put my briefcase on my knees to make a table and in a deep voice said, ‘This is Little Blue, and this is Little Yellow,’ as I placed the round pieces of colored paper onto the leather stage.” Once home, he organized the shapes into a simple book structure, and showed it to a publisher friend who agreed to print it on the spot. Lionni went on to write and illustrate an additional 40 children’s books in the next 35 years.

Lionni was a fascinating character: he spoke five languages, was fascinated by nature, displaced by war, designed the iconic catalog cover for MOMA’s Family of Man exhibit, and made influential work as Art Director of Fortune Magazine in the 1950s. But, in the end, he just wanted to explore the potential of doing art and graphic design for good. Steven Heller, in an article for AIGA, wrote that “in word and deed, (Lionni) has been an unfaltering rationalist, a devout humanist and a passionate artist.”

Here are a few of my favorite LB & LY spreads. Goodnight.

This last one is my favorite.


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