Top 100 Picture Books #54: Olivia by Ian Falconer
When I first read this book, I thought “Caldecott” Alas, it was an honor book, which is nothing to sneeze at. I can picture Olivia and Lilly (Kevin Henkes) being buddies. I think we all know a little girl like Olivia. – DeAnn Okamura
Such personality in a pig! – Charlotte Burrows
Ah! The world’s most famous female pig one-namer (Babe and Wilbur being male). I once heard a rumor that the cover of this book was taken from WWII propaganda posters. Indeed the striking red on white has an eye-catching quality that helped launch it to its current success. Even if you don’t like Olivia, you know her.
The plot from the publisher reads, “Olivia is a spunky little pig with an abundance of energy and enthusiasm. Her daily activities — singing the loudest of songs, creating art on walls, and building skyscrapers — do not tire her in the least. Rather, when it is time for bed, she asks for a plethora of books to be read! Olivia’s mom, on the other hand, is drained.”
It seems a bit unfair to consider that this was Falconer’s first picture book. I suppose that’s sort of the dream. You write a picture book and BOOM! Instant classic. Whatchagonnado? Like fellow Top 100 Picture Book Poll member William Steig, Falconer is a New Yorker cover artist as well.
I was most fascinated, when reading through various professional reviews of this book, to read this line from Kirkus, “Although the most visual weight is given to Olivia, just waiting on the sidelines is Olivia’s little brother Ian. New fans of Falconer can only hope Ian will soon star in his own book.” Twelve years later we’re still waiting.
The single best blog post I have ever read that was Olivia related? This one right here. It made my week.
Publishers Weekly said of her, “Come one, come all for this extraordinary debut for both Falconer and his unforgettable porcine heroine. Falconer’s choice to suggest Olivia with a minimum of details and a masterful black line allows readers to really identify with her-no doubt, they will. There’s a little bit of Olivia in everyone.”
The Christian Science Monistor said, “Not only is this one terrific picture book, but it’s Falconer’s first…Illustrations are stunning, done in stark black and white with splashes of true red. Together, the words and pictures evoke smiles, giggles, and a rare but thrilling sense that this book may be absolutely perfect.”
Time said, “Falconer, whose work has appeared on New Yorker covers, has given her [Olivia} so much porcine panache that she would win over even the strictest parent. Most of the time.”
And Kirkus finished with, “Rarely have readers seen a pig with such joie de vivre and panache.”
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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