'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Wednesday 29 April 2020

Profiles of the Past: Leo Politi

Children’s book author and illustrator, Caldecott Medal winner, writer and artist, Atiglio Leoni Politi, known as Leo Politi, was born November 21, 1905, in Fresno, California to Italian-American parents.

At the age of seven, the family returned to Broni, near Milan, to his mother’s village. That’s when Leo started sketching all that he saw and for all his life, he loved Broni more than any other place.

Very soon the family scattered. Father Lodovico took a job as cobbler in another province. 

His elder sister Marie went to live with a poor aunt who ran a roadside inn. Leo was placed in a boarding home. He continued to draw.

In 1920, the family reunited and went to live in London. There, Leo was exposed to a cosmopolitan life of museums, theatres, and live shows. Within this environment his creativity expanded. After a year, the family returned to Broni. There he embarked on a six year scholarship at the Superior Institute of Fine Arts at the Royal Palace at Monza, near Milan.

Leo was twenty-two when he left Italy to return to California by boat via the Suez Canal. Central America and the Mayan Culture impressed him greatly and his future work would reflect the impression the Mexican-American people left on him.

He continued to sketch all that he saw and later worked in oils, watercolour and wood sculptures. It was at Alma Reed’s Delphic Studio in New York City and his one-man show that launched his career in children’s books as author and illustrator, which would showcase the Latin themes close to his heart.

Little Pancho published in 1938 led him to the position of Script magazine’s art editor and launched his career as children’s book author and illustrator. He used his characters Pancho, Lupita and Rosa, as a mouthpiece for his pacifist beliefs as WW2 neared.
His amazing life opened up like the petals of a flower and his extensive art collection is keenly sought after even today.

Pedro, the Angel of Olvera Street, 1946, was runner up for the Caldecott Medal as was Juanita in 1948. Finally, in 1950, Song of the Swallows was a winner. He wrote 20 children’s books and several books for adults. Leo died in March, 1996. His life and art is worth a look!