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Author and Illustrator of ‘Olivia’ Ian Falconer Dies at 63

Photo of Olivia... and the Missing Toy Book Cover Written and Illustrated by Ian Falconer, Published by Simon & Schuster

On Tuesday, Ian Falconer, illustrator and author of the iconic children’s book series Olivia about a young spunky pig, died in Rowayton, Connecticut. He was 63.


Falconer created the pig as a Christmas gift in 1996 for his 3-year-old niece Olivia, followed by his first novel about the pig that was published in 2000 titled Olivia


When approached by publishers who wanted to have an outside author write the book to go with his illustrations, he turned them down. “I am afraid my vanity wouldn’t allow me to relegate myself to ‘illustrated by,’” he said. “I also thought my instincts about the story were, if unpolished, right, and had happened organically with the pictures.”


In 1996, Falconer began illustrating magazine covers for The New Yorker. Over the duration of his career with them he had completed a total of 30 magazine covers. It was his work at The New Yorker that caught the eye of Anne Schwartz, children's book publisher at Simon & Schuster. In an interview with NPR, Schwartz said her plan was to commission Falconer to illustrate another author's book, but he was more interested in showing her what was then the 100-page draft of Olivia.


"You could tell immediately that this was something really, really special," said Schwartz. "I thought to myself, this is unlike anything I've ever seen before. I've just really gotten lucky here."


Schwartz mentions what really made Olivia stick out from the other children’s books was that it was illustrated entirely in red and black. “To see something so stark and graphically striking was unusual," said Schwartz. "There was also this amazing character of Olivia that just really jumped off the pages. In every single picture, I knew that kids would be able to connect with her."


The first Olivia book made it to the New York Times bestseller list and remained there for over a year, was awarded the Caldecott Honor, and has sold over 10 million copies. Falconer then went on to illustrate and write seven sequels, concluding with Olivia the Spy in 2017.


Falconer honed his talents for painting at the Parsons School of Design and the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. After studying and practicing theater design, he started working with David Hockney, assisting the renowned artist with sets and costumes for the Los Angeles Opera shows in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Success continued to follow him as Falconer went on to produce set and costume designs for top-tier companies from around the world. Some of these extravagant companies Falconer worked for include Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, New York City Ballet, and The Royal Opera.


Ian Falconer continued to show that his family is his biggest inspiration when creating children’s books, especially within the last few years. For instance, Two Dogs (2022) is about a pair of dachshunds and the adventures that they embark on, inspired by his sister’s children. Book author of the musical Avenue Q and close friend of Falconer, Jeff Whitty said "Ian pointed out beauty in the overlooked. He balanced bright, boyish curiosity and the wisdom of a grizzled sage."

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