Olivia

Ian Falconer, Author, Ian Falconer, Illustrator
Ian Falconer, Author, Ian Falconer, Illustrator Atheneum ;Books for Young Readers $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-689-82953-6
Reviewed on: 10/02/2000
Release date: 10/01/2000
Come one, come all for this extraordinary debut for both Falconer and his unforgettable porcine heroine. The author/artist begins this day-in-the-life tale with a kind of behind-the-scenes peek at Olivia. Articles from her wardrobe are strewn across the endpapers-red tights, red sunglasses, a red T-shirt and red tank top-until the title page reveals her selection: a red sailor dress with black-and-white striped tights. ""This is Olivia./ She is good at lots of things,"" the narrator begins, like an emcee introducing the star of the show. The genius of the volume is its economy: the brief text brilliantly plays off the artwork, rendered only in shades of red and black with an occasional background setting; a deceptively simple design unifies each spread. For one such spread, demonstrating ""She is very good at wearing people out,"" Falconer shows Olivia engaged in a variety of activities in 13 black-and-white vignettes, using red sparingly-for a hammer handle, a yo-yo, a ball, a mixing bowl spatula and a jump rope-as she progresses from energetic to spent. Against a completely white background, these vignettes seem to bob on invisible undulating waves, with the intermittent splashes of red creating a sense of movement and urgency-until Olivia's collapse at the lower right-hand corner of the spread beneath a single line of text (""She even wears herself out""). The few full scenes amplify the deadpan humor: a beach setting allows for the full impact of Olivia's spectacular sandcastle model of the Empire State Building; a full-bleed black-and-white image of a tutu- and tiara-clad Olivia bowing to unseen fans answers the narrator's question ""What could she be thinking?"" as she stares at her favorite painting, featuring Degas's ballerinas, in a museum. Whether in full scenes or vignettes, Falconer keeps the focus on his inimitable protagonist. He clearly understands his audience: a standout spread shows Olivia getting dressed in her red-only wardrobe (""She has to try on everything"") in 17 separate fashion poses. 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. Ages 3-7. (Oct.)
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