Leo Politi was an Italian immigrant, residing in Pico-Union, who became a famous children’s book author and illustrator. Politi celebrated the diversity of Los Angeles in over 20 books from 1930 to 1978, including popular picture books depicting the children of Chinatown, Little Tokyo, and Olivera Street. In 1950 he won the prestigious Caldecott picture book award for “Song of the Swallows” about the birds of San Juan Capistrano.
Recently the Getty Trust reissued four of Politi’s out-of-print children’s titles, acknowledging Politi as a cultural icon of Los Angeles. Politi was also immortalized in a stunning illustrated biography for adults in 2004.
Politi walked the streets of L.A. and was a great supporter of children and libraries. An elementary school is named after him in Koreatown and he completed murals for different spots around town. Our local branch library is fortunate to have an original Politi drawing dedicated to it. Inscribed “To the boys and girls of the Washington Irving library with love Leo Politi 1977,” it depicts the daughter of former librarian Gladys Cole. Check it out next time you’re in the library, hanging framed on the west wall.