Falconer, Ian 1959-

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Falconer, Ian 1959-


Born 1959, in Ridgefield, CT. Education: Attended New York University (art history), Parsons School of Design, (painting), and Otis Art Institute.


Home—New York, NY.


Set designer, children's book author and illustrator, and painter. Designer of stage sets and/or costumes for opera and stage productions, including (with David Hockney), Tristan and Isolde, 1987; Turandot, 1992; Die Frau Ohne Schatten, 1995; and The Santaland Diaries, 2002. Designer of sets and costumes for stage productions of New York City Ballet, Boston Ballet, and others; designer of float for Disneyland.

Awards, Honors

Parents' Choice Gold Award and Mittens Award Honor Book designation, both 2000, and Caldecott Honor Book designation, American Library Association (ALA), Marion Vannett Ridgway Award Honor Book designation, and White Ravens Award, all 2001, all for Olivia; Best Illustrated Book designation, New York Times, 2001, and ALA Notable Book designation, Bank Street College of Education Best Children's Book designation, American Booksellers Book Sense Book of the Year Award, and ABC Children's Booksellers Choices designation, all 2002, all for Olivia Saves the Circus; Book Sense Book of the Year nomination, American Booksellers Association, 2003, for Olivia … and the Missing Toy; Parent's Choice Gold Award for picture book, and National Association of Parenting Publications Gold Award, both 2003, and Bank Street College School of Education Best Children's Book designation, International Reading Association Children's Choice designation, and Book Sense Book of the Year finalist, all 2004, all for Olivia … and the Missing Toy; works included on numerous state reading lists and award nomination lists.



Olivia, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2000.

Olivia Saves the Circus, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2001.

Olivia Counts, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2002.

Olivia's Opposites, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2002.

Olivia … and the Missing Toy, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2003.

Teatro Olivia (pop-up book), Atheneum (New York, NY), 2004.

Olivia Forms a Band, Athenum (New York, NY), 2006.

Olivia Dreams Big, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 2006.

Contributor of illustrations to periodicals, including New Yorker.

Author's works have been translated into seventeen languages, including Latin.


Falconer's "Olivia" character has been used in merchandising, including as two dolls.


A theatrical set and costume designer who has also created cover designs for the popular New Yorker magazine, Ian Falconer made an unusual sidestep in his career when he decided to make a picture book for his four-year-old niece. In the self-illustrated Olivia, he first introduced his heroine, a fashion-savvy piglet who has gone on to gain a position within the pantheon of popular

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young picture-book heroines. Brought to life in Falconer's text and line drawings, Olivia is exuberant, intelligent, and unstoppable; in fact, as Jennifer M. Brown remarked in Publishers Weekly, "one could argue that Olivia's precociousness grows out of a three year old's relentless curiosity and unselfconscious belief that she can accomplish whatever she sets her mind to." Coupled with Falconer's laconic text and his bold, graphic art, Olivia's spirit quickly captured the hearts of reviewers and readers, and she has gone on to make more conquests in follow-up volumes such as Olivia Forms a Band and Olivia's Opposites.

Born in Connecticut, Falconer studied art history at New York University, then attended Parsons School of Design and the Otis Art Institute to pursue his interest in painting. Exhibiting a talent for design, he worked with artist David Hockney, who was then designing sets and costumes for stage productions produced in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and London. Falconer began work on his first picture book after meeting his young niece. Hoping to capture the real-life Olivia's energy and can-do attitude, Uncle Ian decided to create an original picture book for the young girl's Christmas gift. Inspired by the black-and-white illustrations of Dr. Seuss, Falconer gave his book a sophisticated, minimalist look. Although the finished work intrigued one New York City publisher to whom it was shown in 1997, it would be several more years until Olivia won the heart of an editor at Simon & Schuster. Published in 2000, the book earned its author the praise of critics and readers alike, as well as a coveted Caldecott honor for illustration.

Falconer's illustrations are notable for his use of graphite line on white paper, his vignette-style approach, and his use of only one or two clear, gouache accent colors within each book. In Olivia, for example, he uses dashes of bright red to convey the young piglet's boundless energy and her many interests, such as her love of art (particularly paintings featuring the color red), her dreams of becoming a prima ballerina, her enthusiasm for constructing amazing sand castles, and her pleasure in trying on all seventeen of the outfits in her closet (all in her favorite color of red!). Discussing his decision to use only a single accent color, Falconer explained to Publishers Weekly interviewer Jennifer M. Brown: "I think black-and-white can be just as arresting as color. It can also be much less information going into your eye, your brain, so that you pay attention to subtler detail in, say, facial expressions."

Although Olivia is built around a series of vignettes rather than a linear story, Ilene Cooper noted in her Booklist review that Falconer's "strong, clever art," his unusual design approach, his subtle humor, and his use of decorative endpapers that expand the plot all work together to reveal the escapades of the imaginative Olivia and her younger brother Ian. The author's "text is brief, funny, and sometimes ironic in relation to the highly amusing illustrations," commented Marianne Saccardi in School Library Journal. "Falconer's choice to suggest Olivia with a minimum of details and a masterful black line allows readers to readily identify with her …," observed a Publishers Weekly critic; "There's a little bit of Olivia in everyone."

The irrepressible Olivia, along with her accommodating mom, returns in several more picture-book outings, among them Olivia Saves the Circus, Olivia … and the Missing Toy, and Olivia Forms a Band. Falconer introduces a little pig brother named William in Olivia Saves the Circus, which finds the multi-talented Olivia dazzling her schoolmates by recounting how she saved the day during an outing to the circus. Because the trapeze artists, the tattooed lady, the lion tamers, the bareback riders, and the trampoline jumpers are all sick in bed due to ear infections, the amazing Olivia bravely moves from show to show, putting on all the fancy circus outfits in turn and entertaining the crowds gathered to watch the show under the big top.

Most children can relate to the absolute panic a missing favorite toy can cause, and Falconer captures this sensation in Olivia … and the Missing Toy. Varying his characteristic black, white, and red art with a dash of green, the author/illustrator follows the spunky piglet as she conquers her fears and goes in search of her favorite rag doll during a particularly dark and very stormy night. Apart from the missing toy—which has been adopted by the family's young puppy and is eventually discovered looking rather the worse for wear—Olivia must deal with an even more tragic fact: the soccer uniform assigned to Olivia's team is an unflattering shade of green! The determined Olivia continues to take charge in Olivia Forms a Band, using her creativity and a dash of turquoise to concoct the collection of instruments needed to sound out a much-needed marching-band accompaniment to a local fireworks display. According to Cooper, Olivia … and the Missing Toy matches a "simple yet compelling" story with illustrations that School Library Journal contributor Jane Barrer dubbed "stylish and witty." Wendy Lukehart noted in her School Library Journal review of Olivia Forms a Band that Falconer orchestrates an engaging text and detailed art to convey "the logic, invention, and humor emanating from a talented youngster, serious about the mission of the moment." Calling the author/illustrator "a master of antic line and situation," Michael Cart praised the series' "irrepressible" heroine in his Booklist review, while a Kirkus Reviews writer predicted that "every deft facial nuance" in Olivia Forms a Band "will be met with squeals of approval for the most popular pig in America."

Falconer wins over even younger fans with the board books Olivia's Opposites and Olivia Counts. In addition to the traditional "up, down" and "open, closed" pairings, the fashion-conscious pig uses skirt lengths, a tutu, hair accessories, and a favorite beach ball to illustrate relationships between concepts such as "plain" and "fancy" and "quiet" and "loud" in Olivia's Opposites. Meanwhile, toddlers can join the well-dressed piglet in counting an assortment of balls, bows, and paint pots in the companion volume.

Although the world of the stage remains Falconer's first love, he considers his work as a children's book writer more than just an entertaining sideline. As he explained to an online interviewer for Childrenslit.com, "I've always felt that children's books are for the most part condescending toward children and miss how smart children are. Their little hands and mouths may not be able to articulate what is going on in their sharp little brains. Writing children's books is [my] … opportunity to express this, and it seems to be appreciated by both children and adults."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, August, 2000, Ilene Cooper, review of Olivia, p. 2134; March 1, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of Olivia Saves the Circus, p. 1146; July, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of Olivia Counts, p. 1857; September 1, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of Olivia … and the Missing Toy, p. 122; June 1, 2002, Michael Cart, review of Olivia Forms a Band, p. 82.

BP Report, July 16, 2001, "Olivia Takes Over the World."

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November, 2001, review of Olivia Saves the Circus, p. 100; June, 2002, review of Olivia's Opposites, p. 362; December, 2003, Deborah Stevenson, review of Olivia … and the Missing Toy, p. 150; September, 2006, Karen Coats, review of Olivia Forms a Band, p. 12.

California, October, 1988, Donna Keene, "Ian Falconer: Work in Progress," p. 13.

Entertainment Weekly, December 8, 2000, Clarissa Cruz, "Bound for Glory: "A Bevy of Books Suitable for Gift Giving Speaks Volumes about the Eclectic Pitch to Readers," p. 85.

Horn Book, November-December, 2001, review of Olivia Saves the Circus, p. 735; January-February, 2004, Roger Sutton, review of Olivia … and the Missing Toy, p. 69.

Interview, August, 1987, "Art and Comedy," p. 38; September, 1988, Greg Gorman, "Ian Falconer," p. 44.

New York, June 21, 1999, Tobi Tobias, "School of American Ballet," p. 66.

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2001, review of Olivia Saves the Circus, p. 1289; May 1, 2002, reviews of Olivia's Opposites and Olivia Counts, p. 653; September 15, 2003, review of Olivia … and the Missing Toy, p. 1173.

New York Times Book Review, November 19, 2000, M.P. Dunleavy, "Renaissance Pig: Meet Olivia, Who Dreams of Becoming a Dancer, or a Diva, or a Painter, or …," p. 66; November 15, 2003, review of Olivia … and the Missing Toy, p. 45; May 1, 2006, review of Olivia Forms a Band, p. 457.

People, February 4, 2002, "Pig Tales," p. 123.

Publishers Weekly, July 17, 2000, review of Olivia, p. 193; November 20, 2000, "The Little Pig That Could," p. 19; December 18, 2000, Jennifer M. Brown, "Ian Falconer," p. 26; August 27, 2001, review of Olivia Saves the Circus, p. 83; September 1, 2003, review of Olivia … and the Missing Toy, p. 87; April 3, 2006, review of Olivia Forms a Band, p. 73.

School Library Journal, September, 2000, Marianne Saccardi, review of Olivia, p. 196; December, 2000, review of Olivia, p. 53; September 10, 2001, Gayle Feldman, "A Star Is Born," p. 54; October, 2001, Dorian Chong, review of Olivia Saves the Circus, p. 114; July, 2002, Sally R. Dow, review of Olivia Counts, p. 94; October, 2003, Jane Barrer, review of Olivia … and the Missing Toy, p. 188; June, 2006, Wendy Lukehart, review of Olivia Forms a Band, p. 110.


Children's Literature Web site,http://www.childrenslit.com/ (May 20, 2007), "Ian Falconer."