Olivia the Spy

Book review by
Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media
Olivia the Spy Book Poster Image
Adorable pig learns danger of eavesdropping in cute story.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Explains what eavesdropping is and the dangers of listening in on other people's conversations. Introduces the word "institution" and some of its meanings. 

Positive Messages

Eavesdropping can lead to "partial truths and misinformation" and make you feel "Insecure and suspicious." 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Olivia's mom vents about Olivia's behavior, but she's loving an plans a fun surprise for her, and forgives her for any mishaps. Olivia tries to do things herself without help, and sometimes there are messy consequences. But she displays positive attitude throughout (more so than in some other books in the series). 

Violence & Scariness

One page shows an imagined scenario in which Olivia is looking out the window of a tall prison building ringed at the top by barbed wire.


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Ian Falconer's Olivia the Spy is another winner in the picture book series starring an adorable pig who often appears in a red-and-white-striped onesie and tends to get into typical kid trouble. This time, after making a few mistakes around the house, she hears her mom complaining about her on the phone and spies on her parents to hear more. Ultimately, she hears a part of a conversation that leads her to believe she's being sent to prison (her mom's actually taking her to the ballet as a surprise). It's a funny misunderstanding cleverly laid out, with a lesson not only for eavesdropping kids but also for complaining parents.

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What's the story?

In OLIVIA THE SPY, the little pig messes up a couple of things at home: She splatters blueberries on the kitchen wall when she makes a smoothie (after insisting, "Mommy, I KNOW how to use the blender!") and throws her red socks in the laundry and turns the family's white shirts pink (after saying, "Mommy, I KNOW how to work the washing machine!"). Then she overhears her mom on the phone telling Olivia's aunt: "Oh, I wish there was somewhere I could send her until she develops some SENSE!" Curious about where she might be sent, Olivia decides to "investigate" and starts hiding and listening when her mom's talking to her dad or on the phone. After hearing part of a sentence in which her dad mentions "an institution," Olivia's convinced she'll be sent to prison! It turns out her mom is planning to surprise her by taking her to the ballet, where Olivia has another mishap when she goes through the wrong door and ends up onstage during the dance instead of in the restroom. 

Is it any good?

This cute and funny Olivia adventure shows the dangers both of eavesdropping and of presuming you know how to do everything. It's also a cautionary tale for parents who may complain a bit too loudly and often about their kids' behavior and mistakes: The kids are often listening, and a negative rant can make them feel worried and insecure. But all of this is treated in the lightest possible way, with adorable Olivia "blending in" (becoming a lamp under a shade, a picture in a frame, part of a zebra rug) to "spy" on her parents to see what they're saying about her.

The art shows Olivia's range of emotions and on one page pictures her alone in a tall prison building topped with barbed wire. But there's a comforting ending with Olivia in bed after the ballet, reading a Julia Child cookbook and offering to make up for spying by cooking for the family the whole next week. When her mom says, "Oh no you won't!" Olivia answers in the familiar refrain, "MOMMY, I KNOW how to COOK!"

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about eavesdropping in Olivia the Spy. What are the dangers of listening in on other people's conversations? Might you get the wrong impression sometimes?

  • What's fun about how Olivia is drawn? How does the author-illustrator show she's worried? How does he show she's being sneaky and trying to blend in so no one notices she's there? 

  • Have you ever heard somebody mention you in a conversation and gotten a totally wrong idea about what they were saying? What happened? 

Book details

  • Author: Ian Falconer
  • Illustrator: Ian Falconer
  • Genre: Picture Book
  • Book type: Fiction
  • Publisher: Atheneum
  • Publication date: April 4, 2017
  • Publisher's recommended age(s): 4 - 6
  • Number of pages: 40
  • Available on: Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
  • Last updated: July 13, 2017

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