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img408Leo Lionni (1910-1999) displayed that rare trade of trying his hands at many different things in his chosen field and succeeding at all of it. He was an Advertising Director, Illustrator and Graphic Designer, Author, Showroom and Design Director for Olivetti in New York City, not necessarily all in this order.

A true Cosmopolitan, living in the USA and Italy where he started and ended his career, he was born in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. He was an award winning children’s book author, best known for his quasi abstract book Little Blue and Little Yellow or titles like Alexander and the Wind Up Mouse, Frederick and Alexander and many others over 40 in all!

Most of his titles are still in print, appealing to kids but also to adults today. He started his graphic design career in Italy in the late 1920’s in Milan and came to the USA in the late 1930’s. He was in charge for a good number of years for the design aspects of Fortune Magazine where he brought a fresh approach to layout and advertising, commissioning artist’s work from young Andy Warhol but also from the established painter and fellow Dutch expatriot Willem De Kooning.

img409His love for nature, one of the lesser known aspects of his life perhaps, is expressed in this rather curious 1977 book, Parallel Botany with the front and back cover shown above. Lionni conceived of a sort of spoof for nature lovers, inventing fake history and plants. The book was available in both a hard and softcover edition. I would really urge you, if you love children’s books, to go to the link posted here, where you can find some of the children’s book covers as well as a very short movie interview with Lionni in ripe old age explaining why he loves what he did best! An extensive biography can be found there also.

Sit back and enjoy Lionni’s animation of Swimmy the Black Fish. It runs 5 minutes plus and is in English. Thank you Kaushik Bhattacharya for sharing this video on YouTube for us.