Book of the Week: Swimmy

May 27, 2013

Swimmy by Leo Lionni

Images and text by Carter.

One of my favorite things is the flimsy, shiny, black and white yearbook from my last year of teaching. There’s a terrible candid photo of me reading to a bunch of kids in the library, and although my outfit could use a good dose of forgetfulness, I’ll always remember the book. Swimmy, by Leo Lionni, is celebrating its fiftieth birthday, and it is still looking mighty fine.

Leo Lionni’s art is something worth floating around in for a while – the textures and the muted colors of the ocean’s murk are so lovely. And then there’s Swimmy, a tenacious little thing whose ingenuity outsmarts the big bad fish, an enemy of schools everywhere. He’s a reminder to stop and smell the sea anemones and to try the impossible.

Is there an unforgettable character that sticks with you? I love that a bitty black fish, wise beyond his years, hasn’t ever wandered too far from me. 

Swimmy by Leo Lionni

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Caddy May 27, 2013 at 8:04 am

I was wondering if I’d read this book before and then I saw that last photo and it just jolted back. I think I may have read this book before.

So many storybook characters from the childhood have stayed with me. I think of Mr. and Mrs. Mallard, Sal and her blueberries, Max the Wild Thing, the little boy who loved Chicken soup (Sipping Once, Sipping Twice, Sipping Chicken Soup with Rice) and the unforgettable Bear Family who lived in a big tree house, down a sunny dirt road deep in Bear Country.


2 Carter Higgins May 28, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Oh Caddy, you gave me a jolt with that Bear Family! Sweet tears. Love them.


3 Anna May 27, 2013 at 8:30 am

Hi, i love all of Leo lionni’s books, we had them all when we were kids. But my favourite character is Frederik (at least its his name in german…). I already got some of Lionni’s books for my kids ans Swimmy is definitly on the list. Love your recommendations, Bye Anna


4 Giulia May 27, 2013 at 9:26 am

In my family we have a super special love for Leo Lionni because he wrote this book titled “Frederic”. And my two brothers are called exactly that, “Leo” and “Frederic”.
I had to do a project for a child development class last year and I picked this book for the kids, it’s wonderful:)


5 Carter Higgins May 28, 2013 at 12:32 pm

Love that! (And Frederick!)


6 Ellen Patton May 27, 2013 at 1:02 pm

I grew up with this book. :)


7 nadya May 27, 2013 at 6:17 pm

Swimmy is amazing! I always think of the words “a happy school of little fish.” So sweet. You have great taste, always.


8 Carter Higgins May 28, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Thanks, Nadya! I just love how much beautiful stuff is out there!


9 Colleen May 28, 2013 at 10:16 am

This is my mom’s favorite book and she often read it to me and my siblings growing up. She was often a guest art teacher at our school where I can remember her reading this book to our class, then we made our own Swimmy / school of fish pictures using sponges cut out in the shape of fish and dipped in paint. Thanks for the nostalgia!


10 Carter Higgins May 28, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Oh, that’s a fun, fun art idea!


11 MT Lee May 28, 2013 at 2:58 pm

This is the one book that I have very clear memories of reading with my father. I still have my copy and smile every time my kids pull it out.
I was reading my other childhood favorite to my son the other night and thought about your Book of the Week series and wondered if you’ve ever read “Miss Suzy”. If not, you should check it out, you’ll love it.


12 Carter Higgins May 28, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Oh, wow, what a gem! I just looked it up and I have never seen that before – I can’t wait to get my hands on it! Looks like 2014 will be its 50th birthday, hope I look as good then. I adore Arnold Lobel’s art.


13 Heather May 28, 2013 at 7:08 pm

Not only do I love this book, but I love the author!!! My kids love all of his books too!! He’s a favorite in our house.


14 Meg May 29, 2013 at 7:39 pm

One of my very very favorites.


15 Jenny May 29, 2013 at 9:02 pm

so happy to see this here!! This was my very favorite book growing up and my mom kept my 2 copies (with the $.65 price printed on the corner!) for me. I now have them to share with my children….love this classic!


16 Allison May 30, 2013 at 4:22 pm

Swimmy! This was one of my favorite books as a child! My grandfather read it to me when I was very small, and I even named my very first goldfish after the main character. It’s been so long since I’ve seen it, I’d begun to wonder if I had only imagined this book existed. Thank you so much for sharing, I need to purchase it for my own kids!


17 CarterHiggins May 30, 2013 at 5:35 pm

Yes! That’s so sweet. Keep the Swimmy cycle – well, swimming!


18 Karen Smullen October 7, 2013 at 9:28 am

I used this book to begin my Pre-K year, it is a perfect metaphor to guide a little school of 4-5′s. See Swimmy in the classroom at There is a beautiful mural you can make…


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