Sitting down with an agent from CAA yesterday the conversation turned, as all conversations must, to Olivia. The Falconer pig, that is. There was some speculation as to why Olivia is as popular as she is. Her personality is certainly in the vein of Eloise, of course, albeit with better influences in her life. But lots of characters are born every year with Eloise-like personalities. What is it about Olivia that contributes to her staying power? Well, might part of it have to do with the fact that she’s a pig?
Here’s my thinking. Folks like animal icons. They like to mention a species and have a single character pop into your head. Now in the field of children’s literature when I say “pig” the first name most people think of is “Wilbur”. So what if I say “girl pig”? Well, unless Miss Piggy is your de facto feminine swine, Olivia is it. Sure, Toot and Puddle had their day and Piggie from the Elephant and Piggie books will always occupy a place in my heart but for most folks Olivia has managed to become your layman’s go-to lady pork (Note to Self: Find a better description than “lady pork”).
It got me to thinking. What are the other iconic animals out there? If we’re playing the association game where I call out an animal and you say the first children’s literary character to come to mind, would your answers be the same as mine? Let’s find out! Here’s my take:
Cat: Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel. That’s a surprise! Harry Kitten from A Cricket in Times Square or Jenny and the Cat Club probably should have been the first to come to mind but I guess it’s a sign of the times that Bruel wins this round.
Dog: Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion. Hmmm. Went kind of classic with this one.
Cow: Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin. Not really a single iconic cow here. Single cows are a lot harder to think up than you’d think too. Clearly there’s a gap in the marketplace here.
Bull: The Story of Ferdinand by Monroe Leaf. No bones about it.
Bear: Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne. No brainer (bear of very little brainer?) there.
Elephant: The Story of Babar by Jean de Brunhoff. Because of the spats, I suppose. I’m a sucker for spats. We would have also have accepted Horton.
Monkey: Monkey With a Toolbelt by Chris Monroe. Sorry, Curious George. Maybe if you had a cool name like Chico Bon Bon I would have thought of you first.
Gorilla: Goodnight, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann. Anthony Browne, you were my second choice. Honest.
Duck: Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. If, however, you just wanted a character named “Duck” then either Doreen Cronin’s hero from Duck for President (though I already nominated her cows so how fair is that?) or Duck on a Bike by David Shannon would come to mind. Or maybe the duck from Tim Egan’s books. Too bad it’s so crazy.
Mouse: Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes. A close second: Every other Henkes book out there starring mice.
Hippos: George and Martha by James Marshall. Quite possibly the world’s most perfect friends.
Badger: Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban. Badger from The Wind in the Willows runs a close second.
Toad: The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. For lack of a badger.
Mole: See – Toad
Rabbit: The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. Other hares need not apply.
Donkey: Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig. Take THAT Shrek!
Pigeon: You get three guesses and the first two don’t count.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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