March 07, 2013
(++++) FAIRY-TALE LIVES
Fancy Nancy Storybook Treasury. By Jane O’Connor. Pictures based on the art of Robin Preiss Glasser. Harper. $11.99.
Ballpark Mysteries 6: The Wrigley Riddle. By David A. Kelly. Illustrated by Mark Meyers. Random House. $4.99.
Beholding Bee. By Kimberly Newton Fusco. Knopf. $16.99.
Even more-or-less-realistic characters seem to live a fairy-tale life in some books for young readers, and Fancy Nancy is certainly one such. The little girl with the unbelievably overdone outfits, the fondness for French phrases and the delight in “fancy” words (which she helpfully defines for her readers) has six simple but wonderful adventures in Fancy Nancy Storybook Treasury, which contains reprints dating to 2008, 2009 and 2010. Jane O’Connor’s pitch-perfect storytelling is beautifully complemented by the illustrations of these stories – although it is not quite clear why the pictures are “based on the art of Robin Preiss Glasser,” since the book’s copyright credits Glasser herself as the artist and there is no attribution of the illustrations to anyone else. Fancy Nancy and the Late, Late, LATE Night has Nancy so eager to read a scrapbook that she stays under the covers long past her bedtime with a flashlight – and has consequences the next day. Fancy Nancy: Pajama Day is about a class pajama party in which Nancy’s decision to wear a unique outfit turns into a disappointment for her, at least until the story’s end. Fancy Nancy Sees Stars is about an astronomy field trip, and Fancy Nancy and the Delectable Cupcakes involves a school bake sale, a forgetful Nancy and a hungry family dog. Fancy Nancy: The Show Must Go On has Nancy putting on a performance with a classmate she does not know well, and Fancy Nancy: The Dazzling Book Report shows the consequences of spending too much time on an impressively fancy cover and not enough on a report’s written content. The lessons here are soft-pedaled but always clear, and Nancy is so endearing a character that she charms readers as constantly as she delights all the adults around her in these books. Fancy Nancy Storybook Treasury is easy to read and enjoyable to look at, with just enough of an air of unreality in Nancy’s outfits and in the way twists always turn out well for her so that its real-world settings seem to come with a sprinkling of fairy dust.
The Ballpark Mystery series has the fairy-tale element of a two-kid detective team going around major-league stadiums and solving mysteries again and again. Mike and Kate are at it once more in the sixth of David A. Kelly’s (+++) books, The Wrigley Riddle. This one is set at the Chicago Cubs’ stadium and focuses on the ivy-covered outfield walls, one of the stadium’s most notable features. Someone is cutting the ivy – but who and why? As usual, Mike and Kate first get involved in the mystery and then follow a false trail, which this time leads them to focus on someone wearing a Chicago White Sox shirt – the White Sox (or at least their fans) being longtime enemies of the Cubs. Readers of the series will figure out quickly that the answer cannot be that obvious, and of course it isn’t, even though Mike and Kate take a while (most of the book, actually) to come to that conclusion. The story also involves a treasure supposedly located somewhere behind all that ivy; and by the book’s end, the ivy cutter has been uncovered (and turns out to have a non-nefarious reason for the cutting, although still not an acceptable one) and the treasure has been discovered – several treasures, in fact. There are definitely fairy-tale elements to the ease with which this story comes together, but readers who like this series will not care – they will enjoy the many references to baseball and the specific information on the Cubs and Wrigley Field (including eight pages of facts at the back of the book). Mark Meyers’ simple and straightforward drawings are as well-integrated into the story as usual, making The Wrigley Riddle a quick and pleasant read for baseball fans ages 6-9.
The fairy-tale elements are far more prominent in Beholding Bee, a darker story for older readers, ages 8-12. This (+++) novel really is a fairy tale coupled with a coming-of-age story and a find-your-family narrative – not really an unusual mixture for this age group, but one that Kimberly Newton Fusco handles well. Beatrice (Bee), an orphan who lives with a carnival, is constantly taunted about a facial birthmark that Pauline – the only person who has ever cared for or about her – tells her is really a precious diamond. When Pauline goes to work for a different carnival, Bee loses the only support she has ever known – until a stray dog shows up and Bee decides to find a place for both herself and the pup to live. She ends up at a house where she is taken in by two sweet but mysterious women named Mrs. Swift and Mrs. Potter – whom Bee alone can see. Well, they are obviously ghosts – this is obvious to readers if not to Bee – but they are clearly caring and benevolent, and in the best fairy-tale tradition, they are sure to be keys to Bee’s eventual maturing and discovery of who she really is. Mrs. Swift and Mrs. Potter help Bee go to school (but will not go in themselves), and they make sure she wears proper (if suspiciously old-fashioned) clothing, and they generally take care of her just as if they are part of her family – which of course, it turns out, they are. None of these plot points is particularly surprising; and it is inevitable that Pauline and Bee will get together again and will turn out to be important in supporting each other – showing that Bee has strength of character beyond her years. Bee is a sweet if rather one-dimensional character, although certainly more fully formed as an individual than Pauline or the various other people in the book. Mrs. Swift and Mrs. Potter are actually the most lively (if no longer alive) and interesting characters here, and their relationship and byplay – which continue right to the book’s conclusion – are a big attraction of Beholding Bee. As fairy tales with happy endings go, this is a pleasant one, with its mysteries being solved at a leisurely pace, its conclusion flowing naturally from the events that have come before, and the kindness of most of its characters throwing a magic cloak of sorts over the harsh realities of life that Bee is eventually successful in escaping.