Ian Falconer Book Review
When my kids were little, the library was our best friend. Money was tight, but the library offered a never-ending free source of entertainment.
Each week after story time, I let my kids wander through the books to check out four books apiece. It was while wandering in the picture book section my young daughter pulled Olivia Forms a Band off the shelf, and we discovered Ian Falconer’s hilarious take on life with a bright and determined child.
Falconer’s artistic illustrations, words, and pacing are completely captivating. He fully captured a day in my life from the first page to last. From a child having trouble finding just the right thing to wear to tripping over junk to kiss them goodnight. Just thinking of Olivia checking out her “final touch...” still makes me laugh out loud.
Not Falconer’s Original Artistic Intent
Falconer studied art at the Parsons School of Design and Otis Art Institute. Before becoming a children’s book author and illustrator, Falcon worked as a theatrical costume and set designer and illustrated covers for the weekly American magazine, The New Yorker.
His early foray into theatrical design was collaborative with artist David Hockney. In the late 1980s, they worked together on costume designs for the Los Angeles Opera. In 1992, Falconer stepped out on his own and designed the costumes for The Royal Opera’s Die Frau Ohne Schatten production at Covent Gardens.
Falconer designed scenery and costumes for the Boston Ballet’s 1991 production of Firebird. Falconer also designed sets and costumes for two of New York City Ballet’s productions Scénes de Ballet (1999) and Variations Sénieuses (2001). In 2015, when the Pacific Northwest changed their yearly Nutcracker performance from Kent Stowell/Maurice Sendak’s version to Balanchine's version, Falconer designed the set and costumes including a boat to usher Clara into the world of sweets.
Too Good to Pass Up
However, from my first introduction to Olivia, I knew Falconer had first-hand experience with a precocious three-year-old. I was right. Falconer admits Olivia is based off of the antics of his niece.
For Olivia Starts a Band, I picture Falconer enjoying his sister’s family for the summer holiday and finding the situation so true to life hilarious, he has to artistically capture it. In a Publishers Weekly interview, Falconer remarks. “All my books start as drawings. I fill in the text later on.”
Falconer incorporates aspects of his theatrical artistic designs in his Olivia books with ballet art, attending a ballet, and Olivia enrolled in ballet class. He uses dance elements, expressions, and references to famous dancers. My little ballerina loved them.
However, Falconer makes it clear in Oliva and the Fairy Princess that little girls don’t have to fit the “pink princess mold.” They can expand their horizons to Indian, Thailand, African, or even Chinese Princesses or a warthog. Or better yet, be a Queen.
Along with the super illustrations, Falconer sneaks in a few big words because he knows kids love big words. My children and I had great discussions surrounding some of Falconer’s ‘big words.’
After that first Olivia book found its way to our house, we rotated through the lot. My children loved them, and I think they loved them even more because I never tired of reading the Olivia books to them.
Olivia... and the Missing Toy is still one of my favorites. When my kids were little, I swear we spent hours looking for a misplaced favorite item. The baby’s “Wooshee gaga” sums it up. It is a great reminder that sometimes a missing favorite isn’t worth yelling about, and it will show up eventually.
Children’s Books Awards
Falconer’s original Olivia book garnered numerous awards including the 2000 Caldecott honor, 2000 Parent’s Choice – Gold Winner, and the 2001 American Library Association Notable Children’s Books.
Olivia Saves the Circus was a 2002 Booksense Illustrated Children’s Book of the Year. It was also the 2002 American Library Association Notable Children’s Book.
Olivia Forms a Band was named the 2006 Child’s Magazine Best Children’s Book.
Over fifty thousand children voted Olivia Helps with Christmas as the 2008 favorite illustrator in the Children’s Choice Book Awards.
Additional Children Books Written and Illustrated by Ian Falconer
- Olivia’s Opposites (2002)
- Olivia Counts (2002)
- Teatro Olivia (2004)
- Big Dream (2006)
- Olivia Goes to Venice (2010)
- Olivia and the Fairy Princesses (2012)
- Olivia’s ABC (2014)
- Olivia the Spy (2017)
- Two Dogs (Expected May 2021)
Olivia Mania Spreads
Olivia’s captivating personality holds children spellbound. She is determined, willing to try different strategies, and outspoken. Olivia is so well developed by Falconer; other authors can copy her style.
Therefore, not all Olivia books are Falconer’s original work. In 2012, Chorion sold the rights of Ian Falconer’s Olivia titles to Classic Media. Olivia’s flamboyant style and precociousness make her a perfect character to spur on beginning readers.
With the sale of rights, numerous authors picked up Olivia’s trendy ways. Hence there are several Olivia kickoffs, primer readers, and early reading books for children to enjoy that are written by different authors.
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“Ian Falconer: Scenic and Costume Designer.” Program notes: Pacific Northwest Ballet. 2021. https://www.pnb.org/repertory/ian-falconer/
Davila, Florangela. “Pacific Northwest Ballet Take a Leap with ‘The Nutcracker’.” Seattle Magazine. 2015. https://www.seattlemag.com/article/pacific-northwest-ballet-takes-leap-nutcracker
Corbett, Sue. “Ian Falconer Switches Publisher for New Book.” Publishers Weekly. 2019. https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-book-news/article/79667-ian-falconer-switches-publishers-for-new-book.html
Op de Beeck, Nathalie. “Q & A with Ian Falconer.” Publishers Weekly. 2012. https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/interviews/article/53761-q-a-with-ian-falconer.html