Before Leo Lionni was an acclaimed author, he was a grandfather on a tedious train ride with two restless grandchildren to entertain. He tore pieces from his magazine and created a little story to pass the time: Little Blue and Little Yellow. It was brilliant: his debut picture book published in 1959, and 57 years later it’s still in print. He went on to publish over 30 more stories for children. It’s remarkable to note how many of Lionni’s books are still in print, while spanning a 50-year publishing spread. He is also one of the few to win multiple Caldecott Honors (four: Frederick, Inch by Inch, Swimmy, and Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse).
This Throwback Thursday post could easily have been written for any number of his stories, but we pulled Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse from our closet last week and have been reading it every day since!
Each Thursday I’ll be featuring a book that my parents *could* have read to me as a child (spoiler alert: I’m no spring chicken), so we will go with a publication date of 1988 or earlier; all books must still be in print as of my writing.
Title/author: Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse by Leo Lionni.
Plot in a Sentence (or two): Alexander, a mouse who is feared and chased by humans, meets a toy mouse (Willy) who is beloved by his owner. When he learns of a magical lizard who can change one animal into another, he sees his chance and nearly asks to become a wind-up mouse too. Before he does, he discovers that Willy is about to be thrown away, and he uses his magical wish to save his new friend.
Why It’s Timeless: Leo Lionni’s tales are nearly all fables with timeless messages: the power of friendship, individuality, honesty, and cooperation. This has landed Lionni’s books as a common choice for classroom author studies and shared reading. I’ve shared many Lionni stories with kindergarten through second graders with rapt attention from my little bookworms. I wasn’t sure if Preschool Bookworm was ready for Lionni, and quite frankly neither was he. “No, mama. Not that one,” he said at first. “Give it a chance and if you don’t like it, we’ll put it back in the closet,” I pressed. Well, two pages in, he was hooked! We’ve read it every day for the past week, and I can see his brain working through the layers of the story.
While You’re Reading: Alexander is full of (child-like) suspense! This lends itself nicely to practicing making predictions. This is a key comprehension skill, and you can read a bit more about how we work on it in my post here, where we practiced making predictions about Curious George. Because Alexander is a bit more sophisticated, you’ll want to save prediction skills for older bookworms or subsequent readings.
Just for Fun: You don’t need to be a classroom teacher to do an author study! If your bookworm enjoys Alexander, read Lionni’s other animal tales. You’ll have plenty of material to compare, and some great messages to discuss, too! Your library should be fully stocked with a variety of options.
Leo Lionni’s books should be readily available at your local library, or at the Amazon affiliate links provided.