Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, May 4, 2017

She's Here. No She's There. Where Is She?

When a being we love, real or fictional, returns we greet them with a joyful heart.  We wonder if those things we most enjoy about them are still part of their personality.  Speculation abounds as to whether those traits, if still present, are stronger than ever or if they have been overshadowed by new and different charming quirks.  Time spent with them will answer all our questions.

By sheer force of nature she burst forth in the children's literature scene in 2000 earning the attention of a multitude of readers and winning Caldecott Honor recognition in 2001.  It's been five years since the seventh book featuring her go-big-go-bold outlook was published.  We are never happier than when reading Olivia and the Fairy Princesses (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, August 28, 2012).  To the delight of her many fans the porcine wonder has a new title, Olivia the Spy (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, April 4, 2017) written and illustrated by her creator Ian Falconer.  This time Olivia's audacious attitude leads her into uncharted territory.

One afternoon Olivia was walking down the hall when she heard her mother talking to her aunt.

Olivia's mother was expressing her distress at Olivia's actions.  She had just finished cleaning the kitchen when Olivia made a blueberry smoothie.  Despite her instructions the kitchen and Olivia ended up as a new blue hue.

Olivia also recently helped to launder her father's white shirts.  Regardless of her mother's guidelines, at the last minute Olivia decided to throw in her socks.  You do remember her favorite color, right?  Red.  Voila!  Pink shirts!

Her mother was so upset she remarked she wanted to send Olivia somewhere, anywhere, until she started to think before acting.  When Olivia heard this, she knew it was time to act.  Oliva the spy was born; cunning and cleverness were necessary.

Olivia used every trick in the book to become invisible but still able to listen and learn.  She did not like what she overheard.  Words like military school and institution had her worried especially when her teacher said prison was an institution.


The next day when Olivia's mother told her to be ready to leave the house at six in the evening, dressed for somewhere out of the ordinary, she knew she was doomed.  The ride in the taxi was one of the saddest she could remember.  When they arrived at the institution this pig, hardly ever surprised at anything, was shocked.  Needless to say, she was not the only one stunned by events which followed.  Lesson learned.  Maybe.

When Ian Falconer writes about Olivia we can't help but feel connected to her.  Her actions are outrageous and fairly normal at the same time.  Her courage to carve her own path in life is inspiring and downright hilarious.  When she makes a mistake, she is usually able to see the silver lining.

In this title Falconer gives readers a mix of narrative and conversations.  We are privy to Olivia and her mother talking and to Olivia listening to her mother and aunt and mother and father chatting.  We know more than Olivia because eavesdropping does have drawbacks.  As Olivia discovers, you don't always get the complete picture.  Here is a sample passage.

"I told her,
'Don't fill it up to the top,
Don't put all the blueberries in.
And not too much milk,
or then it will splatter!' "

"Mommy, I KNOW how to use the blender."

"Guess who had to clean that up? ...

For those who have read all the Olivia books, seeing her on the matching dust jacket and book case sneaking around the corner is sure to bring on the laughter.  Everyone, whether you've read any of her books or not, will wonder what this little porker is doing.  The color choices, layout and design are outstanding on the front and on the back.  To the left the canvas changes to a darker mint green.  A larger keyhole is located in the center.  Peeking through the opening is a large pig snout and one eye.  (I can hardly contain my laughter writing this.)

Using his signature liberal use of white space Ian Falconer has Olivia looking around a corner on the far right of the opening endpapers.  On the closing endpapers she is properly attired and reliving her institution experience.  On the title page the back of the jacket and case is replicated.

Rendered in charcoal and gouache on paper the illustrations are as lively as the main character.  Falconer, to supply pacing, alternates between full page pictures, groups of smaller images on a single page or for maximum impact two-page spreads.  He continues to use real photographs as backgrounds to amazing effect.  His use of black, white and fine lines with splashes of color is masterful.

Every page turn has me smiling but one of my many favorite pictures is of the blender incident.  It is a single page image.  Olivia has finished making her blueberry smoothie.  She is walking away from the counter carrying her drink, wearing her red socks.  In the glass is a red and white striped straw.  Olivia is covered in blueberry splatter, smiling with delight.  Most of the counter, except where the carton of milk blocked the spray is covered in blueberry splatter.  On the white wall where Olivia was standing on the stool is a white outline of her body surrounded in blueberry goo.  Oh, Olivia!

Anyone who loves to laugh is going to read and reread Olivia the Spy written and illustrated by Ian Falconer.  Olivia is as courageous as ever but this time she discovers it's much better to get the whole story.  Listening to mothers when you are supposed to can have benefits.  I highly recommend you find a place for this title on your personal and professional bookshelves.

To learn more about Ian Falconer and his other work please visit the website he shares with Olivia by following the link attached to his name.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  They also include six activity sheets which you can download and print.

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