I love Olivia. You know, the pig from Ian Falconer’s books? I love her. I want her to be my best friend. Except she’s probably around 6 or 7. So I want to adopt her, even though she has a delightful family. Whatever. I just want her to be a part of my life. When Olivia first came out in 2000, I was working at an industry magazine that published reviews. I had an F&G. I used to carry it with me on trips so that I could read it to friends. True story. It has an amazing cadence. Perfunctory. Understated. It is so much fun to read aloud. The illustrations perfectly complement the text. They are sparse and understated: black, white, and red. The combination, the juxtaposition, the conversation between the two, however, speaks volumes.
Other Olivia books have arrived and they are good. Olivia Saves the Circus addresses the concept of childhood imagination by simply using the color pink. Although I do own all the Olivia books, none of them has been quite as good as that first one. Until now. Falconer’s Olivia and the Fairy Princesses (Atheneum, $17.99) is new this year. The cover is a lovely, dare I say, girly, color with Olivia dressed in pink. The subtitle appears on the cover in a cursive script. “Fairy Princess” is ornate and flouncy. It’s rather ingenious marketing. People are going to pick it up thinking it will be a perfect gift for their pink-obsessed child. They will be surprised. I actually did have a customer reject the book because she was trying to discourage her daughter’s princess obsession. She seemed to have missed Olivia’s expression on the front cover and I insisted that she actually read the book. You see, “Olivia was depressed. . . . ‘I think I’m having an identity crisis’, she told her parents. . . . ‘All the girls want to be princesses'”. This isn’t a book about being a fairy princess, this is a book about a character that is fed up with the culture of boxing little girls into one dream. Olivia knows there are alternatives and she’s not afraid to choose her own style. In fact, she’s ambitious in her drive to be singularly unique.
I laughed on every page. I appreciated the subtle nods to gender (even boys can be fairy princess ballerinas). I value Olivia’s cultural and social awareness. Will four year olds? Probably not. But they still love Olivia, too. They’ll appreciate her style; even her lounging-getting-ready-for-bed attire is fabulous. They’ll appreciate her references to literature — “Red Riding Hood”, “The Little Match Girl” — even if they don’t recognize all of the other cultural allusions. They’ll also laugh at Olivia’s snarky resolution. And maybe along the way, they’ll be inspired to pursue their own individual style.