Children's Book Review and Lesson Plan for Ian Falconer's Olivia

Updated on February 5, 2018

Book Summary

Olivia is the quintessential renaissance pig. She is at once 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 3-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.

Excerpted Text from Olivia

"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,

Olivia gets dressed."


  • ALA Notable Children's Books
  • Caldecott Honor Book
  • Children's Literature Choice List
  • SLJ Best of the Best Books

Preschool Themes in Olivia

  • Animals
  • Art
  • Music
  • Dance
  • Ballet
  • Culture
  • Young Children
  • Day in the life
  • Brothers
  • Pet
  • Confidence
  • Hobbies
  • Pigs

Lesson Planning for Preschool Storytime

Olivia could be anything she imagines. And her imagination is big. That's why this book is a great selection for a creativity, art, or imagination theme, or, for primary-age schoolers, a theme about art-related careers.

Music and Movement

Start with your favorite story time song. Ours is "If You're Happy and You Know It Clap Your Hands"

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 we admire. Let's pretend to be some different people...

  • A ballet dancer...stand on tiptoe, raise one foot, put your foot down, walk on tiptoe.
  • 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!"


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?

Craft Time

In the book Olivia, she looks at a famous picture and tries to copy it by drawing on the walls. Are you brave?

Make splatter paintings

Use red and black tempera paint thinned with a little water. 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.

Using This Story to Promote Reading


Younger 2-year olds may not be able to relate to this story. I think it is geared more to an older preschool age.


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.

Emergent Readers

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, cullture, and even math! For example, you could talk about the career of Ian Falconer. What does an illustrator do? Or explore paintings by artists Edward Degas and Jackson Pollack, 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.

Jackson Pollock Painting


Submit a Comment
  • wannabwestern profile imageAUTHOR

    Carolyn Augustine 

    8 years ago from Iowa

    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 profile image

    Enlydia Listener 

    8 years ago from trailer in the country

    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.

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    i love this book

  • profile image


    9 years ago from Deutschland

    absolutely good

  • profile image


    11 years ago

    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!

  • wannabwestern profile imageAUTHOR

    Carolyn Augustine 

    11 years ago from Iowa

    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.

  • profile image

    Jill Brown 

    11 years ago

    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!

  • wannabwestern profile imageAUTHOR

    Carolyn Augustine 

    12 years ago from Iowa

    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 profile image

    amy jane 

    12 years ago from Connecticut

    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!


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