Racehorse Work Ethic or Dreamy Poetry? What DOES Sustain Us in a Meaningful Life When Tough Times Come? Leo Lionni Gently Suggests Young Readers Ask the Question.
by Leo Lionni
Honored posthumously in 2007 with the Society of Illustrators Lifetime Achievement Award, Leo Lionni’s homage to Aesop’s fable of “The Ant and the Grasshopper” has a simple and central moral theme, as do many of his books, interwoven with his use of collage in this Caldecott Honor Book.
It is a small picture book gem and one you will want to share with your children where they, and you, will fall in love with a dreamy, poetic mouse called Frederick .
What is practical versus what is beautiful, soul filling and enduring can sometimes clash and leave us with a choice of two separate directions. What is a simple mouse to believe in? Is it the racehorse work ethic of his contemporaries or does he listen to the still, small voice and his own heart, as he watches his fellow mice frantically preparing for the coming winter?
What will truly, in the end, sustain this group through the harshest of winters? Will it be food alone, or will it be something more, provided by the seemingly indolent, but poetic Frederick who is a gatherer of words and images.
Oh, Frederick has supplies all right, and rations in reserve, to sustain his fellows when the practicalities of food gathering are not enough and they run out.
They are his glimpses and vivid impressions of the outside world tucked into his memory that he can lyrically call forth at will and they are literally life giving to the mice caught in a cold and seemingly unrelenting winter.
This picture book was written in the turbulent 60’s and just perhaps, as a picture book, it also reflects the moral dilemmas that faced many during that time.
And, in many ways, it also reflects today’s cultural message to children that “winners take all and anything less than number one, is dross.” This is the competitive and sometimes combative culture in which our children, and young readers are living.
In its own small and so far from life’s sometimes hard bitten way, Frederick, by Leo Lionni, emphasizes to children the value of being true to what one believes in and to what reflects the values one holds.
These values can be of supreme service to the survival of what fills the soul beyond food, as in music, literature, art and dance, as well as anything that communicates to another who we are as humans, and what we hold dear…beyond being sophisticated hunter/gatherers.
In more unskilled hands, this could be heavy going, but not in the hands of Leo Lionni.
As mentioned above, this is Lionni’s homage to the famous Aesop’s fable of “The Ant and the Grasshopper.” There, as the ants toil in preparation for the coming winter, the grasshopper fiddles away his time in playful enjoyment…until the harsh realities of winter appear and he is taken in from the unyielding winds of winter by the ants. The ants have thought ahead, work together, are practical and driven; the grasshopper is a solo act, focusing on the now, and not the later. There are Aesop lessons to be learned on both sides, beneath the surface of this fable and Lionni’s Frederick, takes it even a step further in how we are sustained in “Man does not live by bread alone” thinking.
Please let your children discover this essential classic called Frederick, along with others of Leo Lionni classics such as Swimmy, Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse and Tico and the Golden Wings.
Adding the Lionni classic of Frederick to your read aloud picture book collection will introduce your kids to a mouse worth meeting, and, you may just slow down a little in the process, and listen to the voice of Frederick, too!