by Ian Falconer
Atheneum BFYR, 2000
I first encountered Olivia in a bookstore, where an employee had singled her out for display. I couldn’t resist–she was a pig in a sailor dress, after all.
I loved the book so much that I got my own copy. Over the years, I’ve read Olivia and its sequels many times, and I first shared the book with my daughter when she was less than a year old.
For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting this pig, I’ll summarize.
Olivia is an accidental mischief-maker, the kind of child who leaves messes and disasters in the wake of her curiosity and creativity.
She is an overflowing fount of energy, wary of naps but “very good at wearing people out.”
She loves to sing loudly, jump rope, move the family cat, and make skyscraper sand castles.
Olivia’s not exactly a role model–I don’t particularly want my daughter to splatter-paint the living room walls or pull every outfit out of her closet when she gets dressed in the morning. So what makes this pig inspiring?
She’s real. And her family loves her just as she is.
In our culture, we expect boys to be active, even destructive. We expect them to have trouble focusing, listening, or sitting down. We assume they’ll run a lot, yell a lot, break their toys and ruin their clothes.
When these things happen, we often just shrug and say, “Boys will be boys.”
How many times do we see little girls act this way and say, “Girls will be girls”? Not many.
Instead, we call those girls tomboys, as if they’re not true girls.
But what we really need to do is validate them, let them know that girlhood has more than one behavior profile.
Olivia can be part of that process. Her life is fun and beautiful and interesting precisely because of her energy and verve.
Does she get in trouble? Sure. Does her mom get impatient or angry? You bet.
But, at the end of the day, there are still yummy meatballs and stories and bedtime cuddles.
And, most importantly, there’s the promise that the love between parent and child transcends the timeouts and tug-of-wars.
That a daughter is still her parents’ little girl, even if she wears her parents out.
How do you validate the active little girls in your life?
Since her debut, Olivia has gone on to star in several books by Falconer, a TV series, and numerous books inspired by the TV series. They’re all pretty good, but I love the original most.