on May 1, 1999
I and my sister grew up with Frederick as one of the most sacred books in our childhood canon. Recently, while shuffling through boxes of ancient heirlooms, I came across the simple, unassuming cover of Frederick (in 1977 the cover showed only the back of Frederick in the lower right corner, gazing into the distance, and no title), and immediately a serene peace overcame me. I couldn't believe I had forgotten about this book. I sat down and read it again, and from a distance of twenty years it still resonated with me. This book brought calm and joy into my heart as a child, and did so again as I read it today. I can't think of any better recommendation for a book than that.
In terms of content, the story of Frederick is simple. In a community narrowly focused on efficiency, one mouse stands apart and concerns himself with art. Frederick notes the wonder of the world he lives in, and takes the time to assimilate it. While his cohorts may grumble at this behavior, when the dreariness of winter overtakes them they are grateful for Frederick's words. Frederick's poetry is seen as an essential supply for survival.
The illustrations are simple and yet extremely expressive -- witness my instant emotional reaction to a cover that was ninety-percent blank space -- and the wording is likewise concise. But the emotional impact of this book is what sets it apart. Out of sixty or seventy books I thumbed through today, I pulled out six that I felt defined my childhood. This book was at the top of the stack.
on July 19, 2001
In a children's bookstore, I once heard a father tell his son to put back a picture book because it was "garbage." Maybe he saw the shocked look on my face, because he started lecturing me about how children today need to learn a lot of things and they don't have time to waste on fairy tales and other stories.
Unfortunately, his point of view is becoming more common. It looks like this generation of children is going to grow up in a world that cares more about their ability to memorize facts and formulas and regurgitate them for standardized tests than it cares about their ideas and imaginations.
Leo Lionni's books - especially Frederick - are great antidotes to that narrow mindset.
Frederick is an artistic and imaginative little mouse. While his family gathers food for the winter, Frederick sits around observing. The other mice criticize him for being lazy, but Frederick insists that what he's doing is important - he's collecting words and colors. When winter finally comes, of course, the food Frederick's family gathered sustains them. But eventually the food runs out and it is Frederick's vivid memories of the colors of spring, as well as his poems and stories, that take the other mice's minds off their troubles and get them through the winter.
I don't think there's a better book about the importance of nurturing the imagination than Frederick. When Lionni first wrote it, in 1966, it became an instant classic. Today it's not just a great children's book, it's a crucial one.
on September 14, 2004
In a gentle and lyrical turn, Lionni's Frederick is the story of a family of mice preparing for winter. One mouse - Frederick - does not gather corn, nuts, and wheat along with the others and instead sits apart explaining that he is gathering sunrays, colors, and words. Although reproachful of his apparent idleness, in the depth of winter, the other mice come to appreciate Frederick's ability to entertain them by sparking their imaginations. Lionni employs color, texture, and shape in his collages comprised of torn and cut paper in solid colors and patterns pieced together into landscapes. Each collage stretches across both pages and bleeds to the edges of the page; by means of the layers of paper, the illustrations have an enormous sense of depth and presence. Visually, the illustrations dominate the pages, with the text appearing in the upper left corner. At times, the illustrations elaborate on Lionni's spare text, while at other times the illustrations offer an abstracted version of the concrete details mentioned in the text. In the final pages of the story, the integration of the text and images is complete, as the text itself becomes an element of the collage. Lionni's language is simple, appropriate for beginning readers, but poetic as well, as befits a book about a mouse-poet. Ultimately, Frederick encourages us to respect others' differences and reminds us of the power and value of imagination.
on December 10, 2004
This book has followed me around for 37 years. I still have the original copy from childhood, torn and tattered but also I keep newer ones in my healing library for my patients. This book explains meditation, the power of the heart and openness better than any other I have yet to encounter.
It is important to cultivate heart in our children and imagination. In our busyminded and action oriented world, kids need permission to slow down and use their imagination in a good way. This book teaches this and it teaches it well.
I will always love Frederick! He is one of my childhood "teachers" who gave me permission to dream and think warm thoughts. He shows the power of heart and mind together - and that above all things it is okay to be yourself, and to be "different."
This review is addressed to the English version of this work but I am thrilled to see that it is being published in other languages. This is also a review of the original hard cover edition.
Of all the children's books I have read and reviewed, this is perhaps at the top of my list of ten most favorite. I suppose the book appeals to me so much is that I made an instant connection with Frederick when I first saw it and was able to completely identify with him.
This is the story of a mouse living with several other mice in an old rock wall in a field. All through the summer and fall all the mice, except Frederick are busy gathering food and storing it away for winter. While this work is going on, Frederick is first seen lying in the sun. He is then found looking at the flowers, trees and his surrounding and finally when asked why he is setting in a sort of dream like state, he tells the other mice that he is gathering words to be used later.
Later, when winter comes, as it always does, the mice, including Frederick, eat the food they have gathered throughout the summer. Finally, toward the end of winter, when it is cold and the wind is shrieking, and life is becoming hard, the food finally starts to run out and things in the stone wall are becoming rather hard. It is at this point that Frederick comes into his own. Our little mouse hero asks the other mice to shut their eyes. He then describes the warm sunshine of summer, the vivid colors they all miss so much, and finally, using the words he has stored in his mind, he is able to share with the other mice wonderful poetry. Obviously this is a wonderful gift that Frederick is able to share and the other mice are most grateful. Simple story at first glance, but oh, so important!
This story of course brings to mind Aesop's Fable of the Grasshopper and the Ants. Frederick is the Grasshopper in this story but Lionni's conclusions are quite the opposite of Aesop's. I note that this book has come under criticism from several reviewers in that it is claimed that this story gives our children the wrong message. I do know that everyone has opinions and all these opinions are just as valid as any others. What is sort of upsetting in this case though is the venomous tone of some of these critical reviews. My goodness folks, a world with out poets, writers, artists, and dreamers would indeed be a world not worth living in. Now this is my own opinion, I know, but I do urge you to think about it, and think what you are advocating! Work is indeed fine, goodness knows I have done enough of it in a rather long life time, but I cannot help but feel that those who dream contribute just as much to our society as those who don't or are incapable of it. At the end of my work I enjoy the things that have been created by the Fredericks of the world. They add so much to my life. Yes, I appreciate those who work hard providing the necessities of my life, the food, cars, houses, clothing, services, et al, but I also enjoy the product of those others who choose a different path. To teach a child not to dream, as several reviewers have more or less advocated, is a pretty sad thing and I do feel so sorry for the child that is forced to grow up in this sort of environment. Everyone has a role to play in life and who is to say which role is more important than another?
Enough of that for now. I do stand by my statement that this is one of the finest children's books that has been published over the past forty or so years. Leo Lionni is also one of my favorite children's authors and I do recommend the total body of his work. And I still think, as I did when I was a child, that Aesop give the grasshopper a bum rap.
on August 31, 2000
Simply put: This book made me who I am today, and proud of it. This book is the one thing I can vividly remeber from when I was a child. Throughout all my life I have always found myself to be creatively inclined and not once did I dismiss the value of imagination and creativity. Today I am still doing that, and couldn't be happier with where the values that this book taught me at a very young age have taken me. I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to any parent who wants their children to understand the values of art, creativity, and the power of imagination.
on September 6, 2000
I can't read this book to children without getting all choked up. The children then look up at me like I'm crazy.
on November 6, 2010
If the whole point of life is to work, eat, and sleep then why learn to read? The very fact that the written word, the wheel, and the internet (to skip ahead a few thousand years) exist is because humans are better than that. We don't need to spend even waking hour of our whole lives wrapped up in merely staying alive. That kind of existence is depressing. We are meant for more than that. That is what this book is saying and I think it is beautiful.
Perhaps it is a bit too philosophical for some young children and they might interpret it incorrectly without guidance, but that is why we read this sort of book aloud and encourage them to ask questions. There is nothing evil about asking your children to think outside the box and there is nothing wrong with championing creativity. We can't all be bankers- some are meant to draw, to paint, or even- god forbid- to be poets.
on July 2, 2004
I am happy to read among the reviews that this book has been as important in other people's childhoods as it was in mine. I never owned the book but would borrow it from the library every single week. I could cite Fredericks poem at the end of the book and the story never lost its appeal. I purchased it for myself when I was 22 and I am happy I did.
Leo Lionni has the rare gift of creating a wonderful story with little means, keeping it simple and yet rich. A review complained how this book doesn't promote children to do their chores, and I don't think this person has understood the book, which is sad. Lionni does not intend to moralize, he only wants to show that there are many things that are important in life. Food is important, but so is hope. Frederick is just the mouse who can bring back hope in his fellow mice when all hope seems to be lost. He fills their hearts with warmth and sunshine when he tells them to closer their eyes, imagine the warmth of the sun and the colors of spring. How can you not think this is a beautiful book??
on January 8, 2004
Frederick seems to be lazy and self-centered. However, he is the free spirit, the artist, the dreamer, the one who stops to smell the roses. When winter comes, he shares all the richness he saved up, bringing warmth to everyone else's heart and soul and teaching us to appreciate diversity. Great for Fall themes, enrichment for mammal themes (mice) or seasons, and for teaching us to look for the value in others, even when it is hard to find. I love this book and use it in many different ways with many different ages of children.