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"Olivia" by Ian Falconer Children's Book Review and Pre-K Lesson Plan

Olivia by Ian Falconer Preschool Lesson. This lesson includes reading tips, companion books, music and movement activities, and art explorations.

Olivia by Ian Falconer Preschool Lesson. This lesson includes reading tips, companion books, music and movement activities, and art explorations.

Olivia, Everyone's Favorite Pig: Book Summary

Olivia is the quintessential renaissance pig. She is at once a fashion designer, dancer, architect, artist, and big sister. And she's quite precocious. Olivia is charming and cultured, and yet she acts just like a child. Which, I believe, is why she is just so lovable. And isn't that what many parents want?

Most children will not enjoy this subtly sophisticated children's picture book by Ian Falconer for the same reason adults do, with its clever allusions to grand works of art, ballets, and great architecture. But anyone can appreciate Olivia's confident, I-know-who-I-am (and who I am not), well-adjusted, creative personality, her dislike of nap-time, and her love of playing dress-up and moving the family cat. Parents will appreciate Olivia's boundless energy and her ability to fill her day full of activities and movement.

The plot of Olivia is more of a snapshot of a day in the life of Olivia than a problem-solution format. Yet still a splendid and entertaining read.

And then there is the book's design. Falconer's illustrations use a three-color scheme of black and white with bold splashes of fire engine red. His illustrations suggest high-end art and culture, while the splashy red represents the fearless personality and childish individuality of Falconer's title character. The book is itself a work of art.

With so much success from his first book, it is no surprise that Falconer has continued Olivia's legacy with additional stories. Falconer combines a story with signature-style illustrations, which are sure to become instant classics. You could easily plan a storytime theme around Olivia in her many iterations.

Olivia stands on her own. You could certainly include her in any pig-themed lesson, with so many other pig-themed books out there, but it isn't necessary.

"Olivia lives with her mother, her father, her brother, her dog, Perry, and Edwin, the cat.

In the morning, after she gets up, and moves the cat, and brushes her teeth, and combs her ears, and moves the cat..."

— Ian Falconer, Olivia

Olivia's Awards and Themes


ALA Notable Children's Books


Caldecott Honor Book


Children's Literature Choice List

Dance; Ballet

SLJ Best of the Best Books


Ian Falconer's Olivia is inspired by the ballet dancers of Edgar Degas. She dreams of dancing like the dancers she sees at the art museum. Pictured here: "Swaying Dancer, Dancer in Green" by Edgar Degas, 1877-1879.

Ian Falconer's Olivia is inspired by the ballet dancers of Edgar Degas. She dreams of dancing like the dancers she sees at the art museum. Pictured here: "Swaying Dancer, Dancer in Green" by Edgar Degas, 1877-1879.

Pre-K Lesson Plan for Olivia by Ian Falconer

Olivia could be anything she imagines. And her imagination is big. That's why this book is a great selection for themes of creativity, art, or imagination or, for primary-age children, a theme about art and artists.

Music and Movement Activities

"Do as I'm Doing" Song

Olivia's brother Ian loves to imitate her. In honor of copycat brothers everywhere, sing "Do As I'm Doing," which is an action song where children follow a leader who chooses actions to perform. You can pat your head, rub your stomach, clap your hands, roll your hands, etc.

"Baa, Baa, Black Sheep" With Color Variations

Collect large pieces of construction paper in different colors. Choose Yellow, Blue, Red, Green, Purple, Orange, and Black (or choose the hues from the rainbow, in order). Choose one child to hold each colored sheet of paper. Make sure you know the children's names so you can substitute the names in the appropriate spot.

"Baa, baa (insert color name here) sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full.
One for the master, one for the dame,
And one for (insert child's name here) who lived down the lane."

Nutcracker Ballet Freeze Dance

At the art museum, Olivia is inspired by the ballet-dancer paintings of Edward Degas. Create a short compilation of music from Tchaikovski's Nutcracker ballet, playing about 1 minute each from the following pieces. Let the children freeze dance to a mixture of these pieces, or just focus on the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

  • Spanish dancers (Chocolate)
  • Arabian dancers (Coffee)
  • Chinese dancers (Tea)
  • Russian dancers (Candy Canes)
  • The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

You could also play movements from Debussy's Claire D'Lune, which has an ethereal and dreamy quality that lends itself to ballet dancing!

I Can Be Anything Movement Activity

Tell your children that today we are going to read a story about someone with a big imagination. One thing that we do with our imaginations is to PRETEND to be someone or something. Let's pretend to be some different people and animals:

  • A train conductor: Move your arms in a circular motion like a train. Saying choo, choo, choo, choo, then pull an imaginary chain and say "all aboard!" You can do this in place or move around as space allows.
  • A ballet dancer: stand on tiptoe, raise one foot, put your foot down, walk on tiptoe. Put your your hands in the air and twirl like a ballet dancer!
  • A fireman: pretend to hold a fire hose to put out an imaginary fire.
  • An artist: hold a pretend brush, and pretend to paint a canvas
  • A cowboy: put your hands in front of you as you pretend to hold the reigns of your horse. Tip your hat. Say, "Howdy!"
  • An elephant: Hold your arm slack in front of your nose and stomp around like an elephant.
  • A monkey: Jump up and down and scratch under your arms like a monkey. Pretend to peel a banana. Make monkey noises.
  • A cat: Olivia's pet cat was named Edwin. Cats purr, and lick their paws, and say meow when then see their favorite treat. What do you think Edwin the cat said when Olivia picked him up? Lets pretend to be a cat.


Tell the children we're going to pretend to be a teacher. Sit on the floor, open a pretend book in your lap, raise your lips to your hands and say, "Shhhh!"

Read Aloud

Pre-read the story. Show the children the front cover. Say, "This is Olivia. What type of animal is Olivia?" "What color is Olivia's dress?"

After the children have had a chance to respond, show the children the pages in the book. What colors are the pictures in this book? Explain that the man who wrote the words in the book also drew all of the pictures. The pictures are called illustrations.

Read the book aloud. Try to engage the children by pausing to remark about the size of Olivia's sandcastle. After Olivia looks at the ballerina picture, ask the children, "what do YOU think Olivia is thinking?" "Should Olivia draw on the walls?" "What do you think will happen when her mommy finds out?"

"Lavendar Mist" by Jackson Pollock is an example of drip painting, a technique he made famous. One of Pollock's drip paintings is featured in Ian Falconer's "Olivia."

"Lavendar Mist" by Jackson Pollock is an example of drip painting, a technique he made famous. One of Pollock's drip paintings is featured in Ian Falconer's "Olivia."

Preschool children painting on a canvas, Jackson Pollack-style.

Preschool children painting on a canvas, Jackson Pollack-style.

Five Art Activities for Ian Falconer's Olivia

When Olivia visits the art museum, she looks at a famous picture by artist Jackson Pollock, and tries to copy it by drawing on the walls. Jackson Pollock was a modern artist who made a technique called drip painting famous during the 1950s.

Are you brave? Try making art with the children using one of the following five techniques. Make sure each child has an old t-shirt or another item to use as a smock to catch drips and splatters that would otherwise land on clothing.

Jackson Pollock-Inspired Splatter Paintings (technique 1)

Use red and black tempera paint thinned with a little water or liquid watercolor paint. Dip the paint into toothbrushes and flick the paint across the paper. Do this only if you can set up an area that will get a bit messy. Our library had an outdoor space that we could set up for projects like this.

Straw Splatter Art (technique 2)

Using thinned tempera paint or liquid watercolor paint (or some other washable paint for children that can be thinned), drop blobs of paint on a large piece of paper. Now use a straw to blow air onto the paint, causing it to spread across the paper. Do this multiple times with different colors of paint. See the video by Jay Lee Painting for more information about this technique.

Texture Art With Tempera Paints

Using washable tempera paints, spread blobs of paint on a piece of paper. Use tools such as disposable forks to drag through the paint and create textures. Use the end of a round craft brush or the eraser end of a pencil to create dots on the paper. Sprinkle some salt or glitter on the paper (if your space allows for easy cleanup!).

Nontoxic Jello Pudding Finger Paint

Young children can finger paint with vanilla pudding that has been prepared and mixed with food coloring to create different colored paints. Food coloring may stain fingers a little bit, but the paint is edible if children put it in their mouths, which makes it completely non-toxic.

Chalk Drawing

Children can use sidewalk chalk to draw outdoors when the weather is nice. It is also fun to create chalk drawings on dark pieces of paper (black and navy blue provide nice background contrast for the chalk.) This will get children's hands messy but is a little less clean up than working with paint.

Blow Painting With Watercolor Paint

Using This Story to Promote Reading


Preschoolers in the 3–5 age range will enjoy the book at face value, but will not know any of the allusions in the story. The frequent, complex pictures are paced well with the text.

Elementary Ages

This story can be read alone by readers who are beginning to build some confidence in their reading skills. For parents and teachers, the book offers many opportunities to segué into a discussion about art, architecture, culture, and even math! Olivia is inspired by what she sees at the art museum. What inspires you?

Or, talk about the career of Ian Falconer. What does an illustrator do? Or explore paintings by artists Edward Degas, Jackson Pollack, Georgia O'Keefe, viewing pictures from each artist, and then have the children choose which style they like the best. Have the children explain why they like their choice.

Some Books To Pair with Ian Falconer's Olivia

"I am an Artist" by Marte Artés is about many of the same themes.

"I am an Artist" by Marte Artés is about many of the same themes.

© 2008 Carolyn Augustine


Carolyn Augustine (author) from Tractor Town, Iowa on February 27, 2012:

That sounds intriguing. I think Olivia is interesting because she acts like a child, but not like every child. She is strong willed, curious, and yet she has a wry sense of humor and confidence. In some ways she is a little too precocious, but that just makes her more lovable.

Enlydia Listener from trailer in the country on February 26, 2012:

I love it when the characters use their imagination to be anything they want. I have tried to do that with my Bunny books. Liz-beth pretends to be teacher, eye-doctor, nurse...etc, to Bunny, who just accepts what she says.

lizbeth on September 01, 2011:

i love this book

funky23 from Deutschland on February 22, 2011:

absolutely good

Elle on February 19, 2009:

This is such a great lesson plan idea! I love the Olivia books and I'm giving a lesson in a Children's Lit class soon, this will be a big helper!

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Tractor Town, Iowa on October 16, 2008:

Thanks for stopping by, Jill. Olivia IS great. If you haven't checked them out yet, you might also enjoy the other books in the Olivia series.

Jill Brown on October 16, 2008:

Olivia is me. I see myself in all that she does! I love everything about her! I too dreamed of being a ballerina as a child and I too was captivated by those very same paintings! I LOVE Olivia and everything about her! Long live Olivia!

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Tractor Town, Iowa on April 23, 2008:

Hi Amy Jane!

Thank you! When my daughter was about 2, she had a friend named Olivia whose personality was remarkably like the Olivia in the book. I have pictures of the two girls covered from head to toe in blue paint. Fortunately they never got the walls, though. I like that the Olivia character sees things, takes them in, and then forms her own opinions about things. You don't often see that represented in stories for very young children.

amy jane from Connecticut on April 23, 2008:

Great suggestions for reading and expanding on this fun book! When we read the first in the series, my daughter took it upon herself to create a masterpiece on the living room wall :) After reading Olivia and the Circus, she turned herself into the tatooed lady with a marker! We love these books anyway. Great Hub!