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The most charming pig since Wilbur himself
on April 23, 2004
Ian Falconer has done many an amusing cover for "The New Yorker" in his day, so it is only fitting that he be responsible for the most New York-inspired children's book since Eloise decided to wreck havoc in the Piazza. For those of you who have never met the charming Olivia, this is probably the best book to begin with. Less pretentious than its sequels, in it you meet Olivia, her family, and her penchant for extravagant imaginings. Drawn in beautifully shaded black and white, this particular tale is dotted with brilliant flashes of Olivia's red belongings. Her adventures are quite tame. Following the day to day adventures of an average child, the viewer views Olivia going to the beach, into her closet, to the museum, and at last to bed.
Reviewer Dwight Garner recently noted in his New York Times Book Review that, " 'Olivia' is one of those kids' books... that hip mommies and daddies like to give to the children of other hip mommies and daddies in order to demonstrate, yet again, what delightfully hip mommies and daddies we all are". There's no denying that this book is decidedly hip. I've yet to see a mom in a children's book look as particularly metropolitan (read: New Yorkish) as Olivia's black clad momma. And when Olivia creates a castle, she doesn't go halfway. She creates a sand-skyscraper. Mr. Garner does bring up an interesting point, though. Is "Olivia" something kids actually love and hold dear to their hearts, or is it something that parents love and hope their kids will get into? Who doesn't want their children to be inspired by a character that reads about Maria Callas before she goes to bed?
I don't know how kids feel about the story. But what I do know is that it's a quality piece of work. The art is beautiful. The story sublime. Plus it's a riot. Olivia stuffed into one of the legs of her mother's pantyhose is a black and white joke hidden in the corner of a colorful montage of Olivia wearing her full wardrobe (love the ballgown).
"Olivia" is not going to change the world of children's book publishing. And perhaps it's only ever going to be fully appreciated by people over the age of 18. But with all the crummy two-bit picture books out there ("Love You Forever" anyone?) sometimes it's just a small slice of heaven to read something to your child that's enjoyable to them and fun for you as well.