Leo Politi was born November 21, 1908 in Fresno, California.
He later moved, at the age of 7, with his family back Italy, where he was raised in his mother's native village of Broni, a place Politi grew deep affection for, and where he began to develop his artistic abilities.
In 1931 Politi left Italy for California. His journey through the Panama Canal and Central America inspired him, along with the Mayan Culture from which he drew much of his color pallet - using ochre yellow, burnt sienna and a number of brown tints symbolic symbolic of earth, and blue-green for water and sky.
After arriving in Los Angeles, Politi began sketching and painting from a regular spot on Olvera Street, inspired and feeling kinship with many Mexican-Americans through a shared language and Catholic religion.
His first children's book, Little Pancho, was published in 1938. His next two books, Pedro, the Angel of Olvera Street (1946), and Juanita (1948), were both runners-up for the Caldecott award, while Song Of the Swallows won the Caldecott Medal in 1950. He published multiple other children's books, and one adult book, Bunker Hill, Los Angeles: Reminiscences of Bygone Days (1964). His work reflected a multiculturalism that was rarely seen in the era.