Swimmy (book)

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Swimmy (book).jpg
AuthorLeo Lionni
PublisherAlfred A. Knopf
Publication date
Media typeHardcover
AwardsCaldecott Honor

Swimmy is a 1963 picture book written and illustrated by Leo Lionni. The book is the story of a very small fish who stands out because he is a different color from all of his school. He is curious and adventurous, exploring the sea after being forced away from his home. When he meets a new school that fears leaving their safe rock and being attacked by a predator, Swimmy saves the day by being the leader they need. The book was a recipient of a 1964 Caldecott Honor for its illustrations.[1]


A very large tuna eats all the red fish who are swimming around, leaving the little Swimmy all alone. Scared and on his own, the little black fish swims away into the large ocean. He sees many beautiful and strange creatures on his journey until he finally discovers another school of little red fish, just like his own family used to be. He excitedly asks them all to come out and play, but they refuse. They are afraid of the big fish and don't want to get eaten. Swimmy tells them that they must make a plan, because they can't spend their whole life hiding in the rocks. He devises a plan to have all the red fish swim in the shape of a large fish - and then Swimmy takes his place among them in the place the eye would be. After that they are able to swim in the sea without fear - scaring the larger fish away wherever they go.


Lionni uses paints and stamping in this book to create his underwater world. Lace, cloth and string are some of the objects used for seaweed, water and tentacles, respectively.


In his obituary, New York Times writer Steven Heller states, "When Swimmy says, 'I will be the eye,' it is clear that this is also a portrait of the artist as seer." Frances Foster, Lionni's long-time editor also said, "I think that's certainly the way Leo saw his role as an artist, seeing for people."[2] Lionni told teacher and author Vivian Paley that of all the creations in his writings, Swimmy was the character most like himself.[3]

Critical Reception and Awards[edit]

In her article “Fish Stories: Teaching Children's Literature In A Postmodern World.” Karen Coats uses Swimmy as an example of how children's books can be as intellectually demanding as writings for adult audiences. She posits that a book like Swimmy is a simple hero story to children, but adults are able to see additional messages about society and relationships that go beyond the surface story.[4]


  1. ^ "Caldecott Medal & Honor Books, 1938-Present". Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC). Archived from the original on 2019-03-29. Retrieved 2020-03-04.
  2. ^ "Leo Lionni, 89, Dies". Archived from the original on 2020-03-05.
  3. ^ Paley, Vivian Gussin. The Mouse That Roared. School Library Journal. 2000;46(1):46.
  4. ^ Fish Stories: Teaching Children's Literature in a Postmodern World. (Pedagogy, vol. 1 no. 2, 2001, p. 405-409. Project MUSE)