He may be small, but this is one mouse that commands a great deal of attention. Random House Children’s Books and Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers have kicked off a yearlong celebration of author-illustrator Leo Lionni with the release of the 50th anniversary hardcover edition of Frederick, including a new introduction by children’s book historian Leonard S. Marcus.
Since its 1967 release, the Caldecott Honor book has sold more than seven million copies and has been published in 23 languages. The story follows a young mouse who, instead of stockpiling supplies for the winter, decides to spend his time perfecting his poetic skills, much to the delight of his fellow field mice.
Frederick has become a touchstone book for the internationally recognized picture book author and illustrator Lionni, who created more than 30 children’s books. Three of his most popular picture books—Frederick, Swimmy and Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse—have also been reissued, in larger paperback editions that reflect the books’ original hardcover trim size. Lionni fans can also be on the lookout for the paperback release of Inch by Inch. Originally published in 1960 and the first of four Caldecott Honor books by Lionni, the title will be available in paperback for the first time next March.
Because of Frederick’s timeless appeal and relatable themes of mindfulness, kindness, and individuality, the book continues to resonate with young readers. “With Frederick, Leo Lionni reminds us of the importance of the artist in any community,” said Jennifer Brown, v-p and publisher at Knopf. “Frederick helps his family of field mice get through the long winter days with words and images from sunnier times. The others gather food to sustain the body, but Frederick’s stories sustain their spirits. This theme runs through so many of Lionni’s books, and I think it’s what makes his works perennial favorites.”
For associate editor Kelly Delaney, Lionni’s ability to tap into a child’s sensibility—one that embraces thoughtful observations in an otherwise harried world—gives Frederick its lasting power. “To me, Frederick is the perfect example of a picture book that I loved as a kid and have a whole new level of appreciation for as an adult,” she said. “I have memories of making my own paper mice when I was little; now, Frederick reminds me to stop and appreciate the sun rays, colors, and words that often go unnoticed in a busy city and a busy industry.”
Marcus’s introduction to the new edition also points to Frederick’s ability to capture readers’ hearts on a personal level, by celebrating the sheer joy of books. In the 50th anniversary edition he writes: “Why read Frederick? For the age-old questions Leo Lionni asks us to think about, and for the ageless art he asks us simply to enjoy.”
To help fuel the reissue of Frederick at bookstores and in the classroom, and to boost Lionni’s backlist titles, Random House has created a multi-level marketing plan. Among these initiatives are:
- Promotion at all educator and librarian conferences, including a dedicated display at the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
- Special mailing of the anniversary edition to top librarians and educators nationwide.
- Digital promotions that include a homepage banner feature on RHTeachersLibrarians.com and placement in the Random House Teachers and Librarians newsletter.
- Mention in “Letter of the Week” campaign, targeting preschool and elementary school teachers; feature in printed kit distributed via wholesalers and conventions; digital assets on dedicated Pinterest board, in newsletter, and on website.
- Feature in “From Our House to Yours” Storytime and Merchandising Kit distributed to independent bookstores and promoted as a top pick for imagination-inspired storytimes.
Curiosity and Creativity
In conjunction with the 50th anniversary edition of Frederick, Lionni’s Little Blue and Little Yellow were published in paperback for the first time in January (the title’s 50th anniversary was in 2009). The artist’s granddaughter, Annie Lionni, who served as the inspiration for the story, explained why this is a continued favorite for new generations. “Little Blue and Little Yellow was a forerunner of a new kind of children’s picture book,” she said. “A wider range of audiences can identify with the abstract characters in the story.”
Recalling her grandfather’s ability to craft a compelling story, Annie Lionni reflected on how his personal life informed his work. “He loved to entertain and his guests could always expect to hear about Leo’s adventures and his ideas,” she said. “He lived a life that was full of travel and adventure and stimulating friendships, so he always had something to share.”
In honor of Banned Books Week, Annie Lionni, granddaughter of the author-illustrator, shares reflections on her grandfather’s socially conscious—and at times challenged—work. Read more here.