Thursday, January 17, 2008
What was your favorite book as a child?
In my case, you’ll get different answers depending on who you ask. My mom insists my favorite book was “Harry the Dirty Dog,” which I remember well but not as my favorite. The one that stands out for me was “Swimmy,” by Leo Lionni.
Swimmy is about a black minnow who lives in a giant school of red minnows. He knows he’s different and feels ostracized - until the other minnows are all eaten by a giant fish. He swims alone in the sea until he comes to a new school of red minnows, and devises a scheme to protect them: They swim in formation to look like an even bigger fish, with black Swimmy representing the eye.
I loved this book because it was all about being different and yet working with others and finding your place. It seems like such a ‘60s message, and in fact it was published during that decade of the civil rights struggle and burgeoning individuality. The artwork is also terrific - pastel watercolor block prints of undersea life, from jellyfish to lobsters to giant toothy fish.
I still give “Swimmy” to the children of my friends. I’m happy to say it’s still in print.
(Photo: Coney Island, June 2007)