Leo Politi began life on a sunny horse farm near Fresno, California. At the age of six, he and his family moved to Broni, a small hill town in northern Italy. There Leo became known as Il piccolo Americano, the little American. Although his adult fame would be as an illustrator and author, Leo�s first foray into the art world may well have been more performance piece than anything else, making a sensation in town with the colorful Indian costume he wore daily. Before long, Leo was leading a troupe of similarly dressed children up and down the streets of Broni.
Though the tiny Italian village proved to be just as idyllic a place to live as the fields of Fresno, for Leo, California was home. So, as a young man, after a stint in the Italian army, Leo boarded a freighter bound for America. As the boat made its way along the Central American coast, Leo was entranced by the landscape, the color, and the people he saw. It was, in fact, the journey as much as the destination that would affect his artwork and subject matter.
Leo was a true innovator in children�s books. Rather than setting his stories in a generic landscape the city, the town, or the farm many of Leo�s books detail individual cultures. His most famous book, The Song of the Swallows, combines his love of Latino life with a reverence for nature. A Caldecott winner, The Song of the Swallows tells of the clouds of birds that return each year to a small church courtyard in San Juan Capistrano, California. All told, Leo would write and illustrate over twenty books during the course of five decades.