Written and Illustrated by Leo Lionni
Alfred A. Knopf, 1967
Awards: Caldecott Honor
All along the meadow where the cows grazed and the horses ran, there was an old stone wall. In that wall, not far from the barn and the granary, a chatty family of field mice had their home.
Recommended by: Cara (Philippines)
Who is Cara? I’m trying to grow up while still remaining a kid at heart!
How did you discover this book? When I was a kid, I found it among my books at home. I’m not sure if it was ever officially given to me, but in my family when you see a book you like, you hang on to it!
What do you like about it? I like the art – the illustrations in Leo Lionni’s books look more like collages (that kids could maybe copy!) instead of detailed pen and ink drawings. I thought that was very striking. Also, the story stars a group of mice preparing for the winter, and I always thought Frederick’s contribution was very special. I hope you like it!
The plot in a nutshell: A family of mice store things for the winter
As winter approaches, the mice start gathering nuts and grains to prepare for the cold weather. Frederick, though, doesn’t join them. When they ask why he’s not working he explains that he is gathering sun rays for the cold days and colors, since winter is gray. He also says he’s collecting words for the winter. When the snow starts to fall, the mice go to their winter hideout. They tell stories and eat the food they’d put away. But time passes and soon, they run low on food and don’t feel like talking. They ask Frederick about his supplies and he describes the sun’s rays, making them all feel warm. Then he describes the colors and they can imagine them in the gray darkness. They ask about the words and he recites a beautiful poem about the seasons. They applaud and tell him he is a poet. Frederick bows and tells them that he knows.
Author Leo Lionni was a painter in Italy for years before he moved to the United States and took up a career in advertising. When he turned 50, he moved back to Italy and began a new and very successful career in children’s books, where he became a four-time recipient of the Caldecott Honor. This wonderful story shares some similarities with the fable of the Grasshopper and the Ants, but rather than stressing the importance of preparation, it focuses on all the intangible things that are also important to preserve. I love this book’s message and the adorable way it’s conveyed here.
He developed his signature artistic style on a train trip, when he wanted to tell a story with pictures but had no art supplies available, so he resorted to torn pieces of paper to create the pictures. He is also well known for using natural colors rather than fanciful ones, to represent the way the animal characters and their environments actually look. An animated version of this story was released in a collection of stories from Mr. Lionni (and you can find it on YouTube, if you’re interested).
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that feeding your soul and appreciating beauty is important for a joyful and well-rounded life, no matter where you are.