In Honor of Leo Lionni’s centennial this is the story of a mom who gained terrific insight into her lovely daughter through the wisdom of a mouse. Well, not a real mouse, a mouse called “Frederick”!
Mikayla is a day dreaming artist who often surprises me with her clever observations of the natural world. Here is a seven-year-old not afraid to pepper her teacher with questions, a student not afraid to share an idea. I believe students who are eager to learn are ideal students.
Last week, Mikayla’s mom tapped me on the shoulder, eyes gleaming, to tell me about her daughter’s indignant interjection at the climax of the story: “How can those mice accuse Frederick of not working? Don’t they know that his work is important too?” Making this discovery alongside her daughter made such an impression that she simply had to share the story with me. This mom gained a fresh perspective on the work of the poet as she engaged in thought provoking discussion about a great story with her daughter.
It’s our goal to allow room for the child to discover truths inherent in the story, for this reason all our materials include thought provoking questions designed to stimulate substantial discussion.
Discover 100 Years of Leo Lionni:
Reflecting on Frederick
—An essay by Tyler H., grade 9
Life lessons can be learned at any age. The children’s book, Frederick, by Leo Lionni, is a tale of four mice that try to survive the winter. Although it is a book for young readers, I think it tells a story for all ages because it teaches individuality, creativity, and appreciation for others.
Frederick shows his individuality by not conforming to the demands of his family. He focuses on gathering sunrays, colors, and words rather than storing food for winter: “What about your supplies, Frederick?” the mice questioned. Frederick responds that words, colors, and feelings are his supplies. He is not like the rest of his family who, in contrast to Frederick’s idealism, concentrate on being pragmatic, gathering food to last through the winter: “And since winter was not far off, the little mice began to gather corn and nuts and wheat and straw... except Frederick.” His family only wants to store the physical necessities for winter, feeling that was all they would need. Frederick wants to store food for the soul. There is little doubt that Frederick and his family share different views of what is most important for survival.
Frederick shows creativity by using words colorfully and poetically. He helps his family by taking their mind off their hunger, helping them stay warm and content: “As Frederick spoke of the sun the four little mice began to feel warmer... was it magic?” The family is surprised that they actually feel warmer and think it is caused by Frederick or perhaps some mysterious force. Due to his word gathering skills, Frederick becomes a poet and recites a clever verse: “Four little field mice who live in the sky. Four little field mice... like you and I.” After hearing the poem, the family applauds Frederick, giving him the title, “poet” because of his giftedness with words. The family realizes that he had truly contributed to their survival.
The family of mice has a new appreciation for Frederick after hearing and feeling his contributions for winter survival. Initially, the family does not appreciate Frederick because he is not gathering goods they believe are necessary: “Frederick, why don’t you work?” They believe that he is lazy, a daydreamer. However, after hearing his poetic contribution, they all applaud: “But, Frederick, they said you are a poet!” As a result of Frederick’s unique contribution, the mice become supremely content. Would they have survived the winter without him?
Human children and adults can, no doubt, learn the lessons learned by the mice in Leo Lionni’s tale. In Frederick, Leo Lionni sheds light on the value of individuality, creativity, and appreciation for others. Perhaps the great lesson we can learn from this story is to not be so quick to judge others for their differences, after all, if we are being honest, each of us has a little Fredrick inside of him just waiting to be let out.
“Aren’t we lucky
the seasons are four?
Think of a year with one less...
or one more.”
leo lionni author unit
Gentle fables, skillfully illustrated are sure to inspire emerging readers.
Leo Lionni wrote and illustrated more than 40 highly acclaimed children’s books. He received the 1984 American Institute of Graphic Arts Gold Medal and was a four-time Caldecott Honor Winner for Inch by Inch, Frederick, Swimmy, and Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse.
The following books are included in this unit:
- The Biggest House in the World
- It’s Mine!
- Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse
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