The Olivia Books
by Ian Falconer

Ian Falconer's Olivia books

Children's book review by Steve Barancik

Ages 3-7

For starters, can we agree not to call her Olivia the Pig? It just doesn't sound very nice. Author Ian Falconer himself calls her Olivia the Piglet.

Olivia is, essentially, a little girl. (And you wouldn't call a little girl a pig, would you?) Sure, she looks a little ovine, but she's all girl.

  • She likes ballet
  • She hates naps
  • She's easily annoyed by her little brother
  • She'll try on twenty outfits before choosing one
  • She wants as many books as she can negotiate at bedtime

The Olivia books pass the shelf test with flying colors.

In other words, if you let your daughter pick the book she wants read to her, one of Olivia's adventures will likely be chosen more often than not. These books don't spend a lot of time on the shelf!

Proof that Olivia the Piglet books are a kid favorite? Well, for one thing, there's the fact that someone keeps paying Ian Falconer to create more and more of them! And then there's the fact that demand is so high that an episodic TV show had to be created.

We'll try to forgive that.

And then there are the "blurbs." You don't see a lot of praise from famous grown-ups on picture books...since famous grown-ups don't usually read picture books. But on the back of the first Olivia book you'll find fun quotes from no less than:

  • Dame Joan Sutherland (the opera singer)
  • Mikhail Baryshnikov (the ballet dancer)
  • David Hockney (the artist)
  • Gloria Steinem (the feminist), and
  • Hilary Knight (children's author-illustrator extraordinaire; think Eloise.)

Books that pass the shelf test inevitably feel true to the children who repeatedly select them, and that's a tribute to author-illustrator Falconer's sensitive touch. (He won a Caldecott Honor for the first Olivia book.) 

Review continues.

Olivia gets dressed...again

With limited line and color (and a lot of visual humor) Falconer captures a little being with a tendency towards happiness but a crooked smile that says, "I'm not quite so sure of myself...yet."

Olivia is creative and emotional, never short on imagination or on things she wants to do. As of this writing (2009) there are already almost more Olivia books than I can count, and much Olivia the Piglet gear to boot.

It's fair to say she's struck a chord.

Olivia (first in the series).

Read another reviewer's take on Olivia.

More award winners.

Read more of Steve's reviews.

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