Leo Lionni (1910-1999) was an award-winning artist, author and illustrator. His children's books are prized for their distinctive illustrations and heart-warming stories. Lionni was also an internationally renowned painter and sculptor. Today, he is best known for his children's picture books, which are beloved by students and their teachers alike.
Language Arts Activities
A running theme in several of Lionni's books is that everyone is special in their own way. Read one of Lionni's stories that focuses on this theme -- "Frederick" is a good one. Then, as a gentle way of introducing adjectives, ask the students to think of words that describe themselves or others in the class, such as "smart" and "funny." Write the words on a piece of paper or on a whiteboard, and point at each one as you say it. Talk about how special the class is. Another activity could focus on how Lionni got his ideas from his books. Many of his books were inspired by the natural world -- including animals -- that surrounded his childhood home. Ask the students to think about their homes and what is important to them. Have them draw pictures of these things in an "Important Things" book. Some of the more advanced children might also be able to write some of the words of the things that are important to them, such as "pet" or "mom."
Many of Lionni's books contrast living and nonliving things. For example, in "Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse," a live mouse becomes friends with a toy mouse. Create a two-columned chart based on that or another of Lionni's books and list the things in the book that are living or nonliving. Then, ask the students to come up with their own examples of living and nonliving things. Extend the activity by talking about the characteristics of living and nonliving things. Or, talk about where animals live by using examples from some of Lionni's books. Discuss the things that animals need to live. For example, frogs usually live near water. Then, ask the students to choose an animal and draw a picture of where it lives.
Small Motor Activities
One of the hallmarks of Lionni's illustrations is the use of torn paper, and tearing paper is a fun and effective way to practice fine motor skills. Pass out different types of paper: construction paper, tissue paper and craft paper are all possible choices. Talk about the different colors and textures of the paper. Ask the children if the paper reminds them of things found in nature, such as rocks, trees and specific animals -- all frequent themes in Lionni's books. Then, have the children tear paper and glue it onto stiff paper, such as cardstock or watercolor paper, to make designs or pictures. Or, do an activity that focuses on friendship, a popular theme in Lionni's books. Talk about how friends help each other, with some specific examples. Then, have each student trace his hand -- a grownup might need to help -- and write his name on it. You might also have them color the hand. Then, have the students cut them out. Place the hands in a circle on the door, or in a row on a bulletin board, to show how the students "give each other a hand" in class.
Large Motor Activities
Many of the main characters in Lionni's books are animals. Read one of the stories, and then have the students pretend to be the animal in the story. Hop, jump or crawl your way around the room, making animal noises. Or, play "Simon Says," using motions the animal might make. For example, if you read the book "Fish is Fish," you might say "Simon says swim like a fish!" You could even replace the word "Simon" with "Lionni."
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