Olivia book cover art
Olivia Saves the Circus book cover art

Written & Illustrated by Ian Falconer
Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Okay...I really love children's books. Well written and/or illustrated, of course. And I don't even have kids. I'm just a connoisseur. So when I found Olivia while browsing in a bookstore one day, I knew I had to have it.

Olivia is a little pig with a big imagination, not to mention a great artist with a keen fashion sense and lots of personality. In Olivia, we follow the precocious pig through her day, from brushing her ears in the morning to bedtime stories, with many adventures in between--including tormenting her little brother (of course!). She is the Everychild: individualistic and full of an energy that every one of her child counterparts reading this book will connect with. Who wouldn't rather go to the museum or play dress-up than take a nap (when you're four, anyway)? There is plenty of fun for adults in this book as well. Falconer puts just enough of an adult twist on the humor in his words and illustrations to make this an enjoyable read for even those of us who are just grown-up kids.

Falconer is not only a wonderful storyteller, but a brilliant illustrator as well. His black, white, and red portrayals of the hyper piglet and her world are charming and inspired. Most of the story and its humor come not from the text itself, but from its interplay with his clever renderings. His work has been seen in The New Yorker over the years, so it may look familiar, and his talents are put to good use here.

I highly recommend this book. Definitely own this if you have children, or if you don't want to be caught buying a children's book, at least read it at the bookstore and see if it doesn't want to follow you home.

And if you haven't gotten enough of Olivia from her debut, well, there's more. She's gotten a little older, has a new little brother (and still has her old little brother, too), and is telling the class at her school about her summer vacation. Of course, it wouldn't be a story about Olivia the piglet without lots of exaggeration on her part. When she was taken to see the circus over the summer and all of the performers had ear infections, she felt it her duty to fill in for them, making for some highly amusing illustrations and a wonderful "what I did on my summer vacation" story for her class.

Falconer's illustrations vary from the black, white and red of the first book and delve into greys and pinks when we're at the circus, which gives it a nice contrast with the here-and-now parts of the book. After reading this Olivia tale, I know that Falconer has not lost his touch, and I sincerely hope that he has many more stories about Olivia, Queen of the Trampoline, for all of us in the future.

Grades: A+ for both

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