Swimmy is a black fish who lives with a school of red fish. He happens to be the best swimmer in his school. One day, the red fish get eaten by a big fish, but Swimmy escapes. He sets out to explore the ocean to fight off his loneliness. He sees seaweed, jelly fish, lobsters and an eel among other things. Swimmy comes to love the ocean. One day he finds a new school of red fish. He encourages them to see all that the ocean has to offer, but they are scared of being eaten by a big fish. Swimmy teaches the red fish to swim together in the shape of a big fish, Swimmy acts as the eye of the big fish. Together they swim through the ocean and chase big fish away.
I fell in love with Swimmy for many reasons. First, the language is perfect for young readers (and listeners). At times, books become too wordy. Swimmy has short, yet ample sentences that tell the story without unnecessary frills. I was particularly moved by the theme of this book. The red fish are scared of exploring the ocean alone. When they work as a team they are able to see all that they wanted to see. The illustrations are my favorite part of Swimmy. This book is illustrated with what appears to be a mixture of stamps and finger painting. My favorite illustration is the seaweed made of stamped lace.
After losing his brothers and sisters to a hungry tuna, Swimmy, a little black fish, joins a school of small red fish. To prevent them from being eaten by a bigger fish, Swimmy teaches the red fish to swim close together, each in its own place, so they will look like one giant red fish—with himself as the eye. Illustrating this clever little tale are stunning paintings that, in their original and effective use of color and design, convey extraordinarily well the beauty and depth of the underwater world.
In a library, or classroom setting, I would set out finger paints and found materials and encourage readers to create their own ocean scene. Interesting found materials might be leaves, streamers, tissue paper, eating utensils. Anything with an interesting shape or texture would be fun to work with. The options are endless.
Lionni, L (1963). Swimmy. New York: Pantheon. ISBN: 0394817133.
[Review of the book Swimmy by Leo Lionni]. Booklist, Mar. 1963, 29-29.