Erin Ramai's Reviews > Olivia

Olivia by Ian Falconer
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Feb 05, 10

bookshelves: award-winning-and-honor-books, picture-books, rated-and-reviewed, caldecott
Read in January, 2010

This book is intended for children ages 4-8. It received a Caldecott Honor Award in 2001.

In Olivia, Falconer illustrates the story of Olivia, the free-spirited, attention-seeking, independent pig, a character who is inspired by his niece. The text is very believable considering the playful and yet extremely particular behaviors that can juxtapose one another in the personalities of young children. Additionally, the text captures precociousness that characterizes Olivia as a child ranging from two to five years (at least in my interpretation of the text). In fact, Falconer chose to make Olivia a pig because pigs are intelligent creatures that embody more human qualities than other animals. This book is a satisfying whole because it achieves what it sets out to accomplish, and at the same time leaves you wanting more Olivia adventures.

Media
In order to compliment the simplistic, straightforward nature of the text, Falconer utilizes only two media--charcoal and gouche-- (watercolor mixed with white powder to create an opaque product) in his illustrations. A third media, the artwork of other artists, namely Jackson Pollack and Edgar Degas, is also included, but only at the museum.

Line and Style
The line quality in Falconer’s drawings is sketch-like and flows onto the page with a cartoon-esque feel. Although to some, his lines may seem imprecise, to me, each wiggle is calculated. Olivia maintains a consistent visual identity even though the lines used to draw her various moods and actions have slight variations—a tremendous feat by Falconer. Moreover, the cartoon-like drawings of Olivia and her family accentuate the playful, and comical mood Falconer desires.

Color
Although the illustrations are simplistic, Falconer achieves his desired effect by emphasizing the stark contrast between charcoal black and gray, and two gouche colors: red and black against a background that is usually white.

Falconer’s use of red highlights Olivia’s importance. On every page, Olivia is wearing red clothing, holding or utilizing a red object. Red pops off the page and appears minimally on one side of a double-page spread. Or, when two single page spreads are side-by-side, red appears in at least one of the illustrations. The color red not only emphasizes Olivia’s importance, but it also enhances Olivia’s characterization because she is a character who is born to stand out and refuses to become a wall-flower. Furthermore, the color red creates a suspense and relief cycle through page turns because the reader wants to know what Olivia will be doing or wearing next, a question which is always answered by the color red.

The only exceptions to charcoal black and gray, and red and black gouche are when Olivia goes to the beach and when she visits the art museum. These exceptions, however, do not detract from the continuity of the text and provide just enough variation to add humor and intrigue.

The generous amount of white space in the background of most of the illustrations focuses the reader’s attention on the characters themselves and invites the reader to participate in Olivia’s world. The settings are minimalistic in this book because Olivia is the “main attraction.”

Shape
Aside from his drawings of Olivia and her family, Falconer employs straight edges or lines, which meet at angles and create three-dimensional shapes. For example, most of his rooms and settings are created by the intersection of three lines that create the illusion of depth through their angular orientation. However, sometimes shading or a singular horizon line creates the space Olivia navigates.

Light
Light and shading with charcoal are used to give Olivia and her surroundings three-dimensions. The shaded portions of Olivia show areas of her body that recess, while white areas give Olivia the rounded qualities of a pig. Falconer also uses charcoal shading to create shadow for objects and for Olivia’s slightly plump figure.

Toward the end of the book, charcoal shading comes into play more frequently in the form of settings. However, Olivia’s dreams of becoming a dancer and the penultimate scene where Olivia is in bed with her mother enjoying a book are of particular interest. I feel that Falconer uses almost no hard black lines to create a feeling of whimsy in the dance scene. He employs a very similar method in the reading scene, but in this case, it creates a feeling of warmth, love and closeness between mother and daughter. Also, in this scene, stark white is absent. The tones are muted to create a closeness, where the characters almost melt into one another. Thus, although Olivia certainly has a mind of her own, this drawing demonstrates that she also appreciates the bonds between family.

In my opinion Falconer’s simplistic text structure and artistic style lend themselves nicely to the complexity of Olivia’s character. Although at first glance Olivia may seem somewhat static, Falconer shows us that she is dynamic, but he accomplishes this in a very subtle way through the last few pages of text and accompanying illustrations. He is not overly didactic, but merely gives an apt representation of human sensibilities. I believe this analysis proves that Olivia definitely measures up to Caldecott criteria.
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message 1: by Ruth (new)

Ruth This is a family favorite, so much so, that our white Jack Russell terrior was named in honor of this very Olivia! Henke's phrases, "What could she be thinking" or "you wear me out" have become quite commonplace at our house. Thank you for this thoughtful review of a heartwarming book!


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