Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Friday, November 23, 2012

Princess? I Think Not!

It's hard to believe twelve years have come and gone since the world was first introduced to one of the spunkiest pigs to hit the picture book scene.  Olivia (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, October 2000), written and illustrated by Ian Falconer, named after his niece, garnered a 2001 Caldecott Honor award.   Five picture books, several board books, an inspirational quotes book and even a paper theater later, her popularity continues to grow.

What draws readers to this one-of-a-kind porcine personality is her indomitable spirit, her deep desire to be her own unique self and her attitude to not just do something, but to do it bigger and better than anyone else; not because it's a competition but because that's who she is.  Never have these qualities been more manifest than they are in the newest title, Olivia and the Fairy Princesses (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, August 28, 2012).  Olivia has a problem and readers follow along as she reaches a solution that is the essence of Olivia.

Olivia was depressed.

Proclaiming to her family that she is having an identity crisis, not knowing what she should be, her father reminds her she will always be his little princess.  But from Olivia's viewpoint this is the problem, a capital B I G problem. It seems being a princess is on all girls' minds.

At the last birthday gathering she was surrounded by a sea of pink tutus, miniature crowns and star-topped wands.  As readers know Olivia is not a pink kind of person much preferring her splashes of red or sporting an outfit better suited to her sense of fashion for the moment.  At the school recital everyone wants to be the fairy princess ballerina but not Olivia.

Having outgrown her own desire to be a ballerina, she would rather mirror the movements of modern dance.  As bath and bedtime approach Olivia continues to lament her circumstances to her ever tolerant mother reminding her of her Halloween costume as a warthog rather than conforming to the pink princess crowd.  Olivia cannot understand why everyone wants to be the same.

Bedtime fairy tales add fuel to the flame until her mother, losing patience at this point, tells her the story of The Little Match Girl.  An active imagination keeps our favorite pig from falling asleep in her mother's desired five minute time frame.  What can I be? Maybe this? Or that? Or how about?  And then the solution pops into her mind in all its brilliance.  As usual Olivia aims high, all the way to the top.

Ian Falconer's storytelling is driven by his characters' attributes, their dialogue and thoughts.  He injects humor throughout in Olivia's questions and in her responses to situations and events.  At times a single sentence can pack a powerful punch.  His introduction of words outside the realm of a normal picture book reader's vocabulary is a plus.  This statement of her clothing worn to the party is Olivia in a nutshell.

"I choose a simple French sailor shirt, matador pants,
 black flats, a strand of pearls, sunglasses, a red bag,
 and my gardening hat."

Enhancing the focus of the storyline Ian Falconer chooses to have not even the slightest hint of red on his jacket and matching cover for this title.  The endpapers are done in a pale pink with a darker shade of pink stars scattered over the pages.  The title page is a reverse repeat of the cover, Olivia clearly not happy with what she sees in the mirror.

Portraying the depth of Olivia's dilemma, Falconer opens with her lying on her back, arms outstretched dressed in her signature red and white striped, one piece pajamas with Harry, the family dog, and Edwin, the family cat, watching on the sidelines.  Rendering all the illustrations in charcoal and gouache with liberal use of white space Falconer places them across two pages, a single page, double or multiple insets on a page, and oval vignettes in black and white with added bright colors for accent. For Halloween, night and the fairy tale page he uses darker shading as a background to create atmosphere.  As in other titles a photographic image is used.

Without a doubt Ian Falconer's pigs and their expressions are priceless but none more so than Olivia.  Olivia and the Fairy Princesses is a fresh breath of independence in word and pictures.  Follow the link attached to Ian Falconer to access the official Olivia website.  This is a link to Ian Falconer: By The Book, The New York Times, Sunday Book Review.  Publishers Weekly did a Q & A with Ian Falconer.  Both interviews were done this past August.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  For those true blue fans check out these pages of Olivia fabric creations here and here.  Who knew she had her own fabric line?

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