Swimmy Literature Guide

Grade Level: 
PreK, K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Celebrating Differences
Civil Society
by Leo Lionni - A literature guide for parents, teachers, and group leaders to accompany the reading of this picture book. The guide below provides before, during, and after-reading discussion questions. Choose from activities and discussion questions to build children's understanding of generosity, community, and service to others. Spanish Version Attached.

Swimmy’s world becomes much bigger when he loses his school of fish. When he explores the great sea in search of a new community, he learns about the beauty of the world and the way things work. He uses that knowledge to protect himself and his new community. There are two important messages for children and adults: work together for the common good and take risks in order to appreciate what the world has to offer. We can probably all benefit from a discussion about common good, which is an essential element of a democracy. This book may even spark discussions about the formation of our country. Think about what role common good plays in your family rules and practices. What is the role of common good in the community and country? Enjoy this delightful story and the discussions it sparks.

Before Reading

ASK: What is a community? (Define community as the degree that people come together for the common good.) Talk about different communities we belong to (town, church, family, school, interest/social groups).

SHOW: Look at the cover at the black fish. A "community" of fish is called a school. Does this black fish have a school?

CONNECT: We are going to read a story about a fish that needs a school. Let’s find out how he finds a school and shares his talents to gain their trust.

During Reading

ASK: What are the needs/wants of Swimmy (and the other fish)? What is the problem and how does Swimmy solve the problem?

SHOW: Notice the glossy texture of the paint used. Look for shapes that may have been “stamped” by a sponge and other materials.

CONNECT: Are the fish eager to let Swimmy join them at first? How do you feel when you meet someone new with new ideas?

After Reading

ASK: Can the school of fish in this story be called a community? Why or why not? (They came together for the common good.) Point out that Swimmy volunteered his talent, which was knowledge about the world. How did Swimmy learn about the world? Why would someone volunteer his or her time, talent, or treasure for the common good? (What might have happened if the school had not worked together to protect each other?)

CONNECT: What is a benefit of group cooperation? When have people in your community come together for the common good? What talents were shared?


  1. Work together with a group (family and/or friends) to do something you couldn’t do alone. Think of lots of ideas first and then pick the one that makes the most sense. Use cooperation to do something for the common good. (Clean up a local park, work in a soup kitchen, volunteer at the local zoo, etc.)
  2. Make a glossy paint and paint on a large fish shape cut out of white construction paper.

    Materials: Use a waterproof egg carton for mixing paints. You will need red, yellow, and blue tempera paints, glue, dishwashing soap, and stir sticks. Cut up a sponge into small shapes—use one shape for each color.

    Directions: Put a half teaspoon of paint in six sections of the egg carton—a different color in each one (mix colors to get purple, green, and orange). Add half of a teaspoon white glue and half of a teaspoon dishwashing soap to each. Stir with the stir sticks. Use the empty sections to hold the sponges while not in use. Use the sponges to dab, swirl, or smooth on the paint.
  3. Use paints to create a giant fish out of many little fish. Make a fish-shaped stamp by cutting a sponge into a fish shape. Pour a little red paint onto a paper plate. Dab the sponge in the color several times until the paint is covering the sponge surface evenly. Stamp the fish shape on a large piece of paper. Repeat and form a giant fish shape made of many little fish shapes. Use black paint for the eye. Estimate and then count how many little fish make up the larger fish.
  4. Swimmy encourages the other fish to take a risk so they can see the beautiful sea. Think of something that is new for you. Talk about the risks involved. What can you do with the support of family and/or friends that will help you take that new risk safely?



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