by Leo Lionni

Leo Lionni's Swimmy

Book review by Tamara Splingaerd

Ages 4-8

Exceptional fish overcomes tragedy with curiosity and wonder

More often than not, I buy my daughters books that line up with my own ideas and beliefs about life, or at least the idealistic version of those beliefs. Leo Lionni resides in my house as much for the kids’ entertainment as my own Zen experience.

Swimmy is a zippy black fish in his school of slower red brothers and sisters who finds himself alone after his entire family is devoured by a bad tuna. Still, he heads out alone into the scary depths of the sea. He explores, discovering beautiful and mysterious wonders until one day he comes upon another school of little red fish, identical to his lost family.

Swimmy wants them to join him in his explorations but they are too frightened of being eaten by the big tuna. Persistently, he urges them on:

But you can’t just lie there…We must THINK of something.

After much thought, Swimmy solves their problem. He teaches them to swim in the shape of one giant fish, Swimmy as the eye. Together, they chase away the big fish and swim off to explore the beautiful sea together. Review continues.

fish working together

Lionni’s illustrations are softly painted stamp-and-collage masterpieces.

The blended textures and colors are both dramatic and soothing. I’d love to have a Swimmy mural on my bedroom wall.

(Webmaster's note: This book won a 1964 Caldecott Honor for exceptional picture book art.)

Maybe not a picture of the giant tuna eating all of Swimmy’s brothers and sisters but I’d definitely pick one of these:

…an eel whose tail was almost too far away to remember…

…strange fish, pulled by an invisible thread…

…a forest of seaweeds growing from sugar-candy rocks…

Come to think of it, my daughter needs her room painted so maybe I’ll break out the sponge paints and fish stencils and attempt a Lionni knock-off. Ohhmmm…

Swimmy is a tiny fish who loves life. He loves the landscapes and the creatures of his underwater world. He is filled with wonder and knows that to solve a problem (of debilitating fear and loss in this case), he must use his brain. Not a bad addition to your child’s worldview. Swimmy is a good roe model.

Read more of Tamara's reviews.

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