May 30, 2013


Zoe’s Room (No Sisters Allowed). By Bethany Deeney Murguia. Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic. $16.99.

Fancy Nancy: Fanciest Doll in the Universe. By Jane O’Connor. Illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. Harper. $17.99.

Nancy Clancy, Book 1: Super Sleuth. By Jane O’Connor. Illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. Harper. $4.99.

     Little sisters can be such a problem for big sisters – but in the long run, or at least by the end of these books, big sis always discovers that little sis isn’t so bad after all. In Bethany Deeney Murguia’s Zoe’s Room (No Sisters Allowed), Zoe has a room all to herself and a bedtime routine – actually after her parents put her to bed – in which she is Queen of the Universe and can do just what she wants: explore, build, watch the stars and more. But – uh, oh – one day Zoe’s mom announces that little Addie is now old enough to move out of mom and dad’s room and share Zoe’s. Zoe is not happy, and becomes considerably less so when she tries to stick to her nighttime habits and Addie keeps waking up and crying loudly enough to bring in their parents. The Queen of the Universe is feeling more and more put-upon for three nights until, on the fourth night, something unexpected happens that brings Zoe and Addie much closer – literally closer, snuggled together – and Zoe decides that there is space in her room for a Little Queen as well as a Big Queen. Yes, the story is romanticized and overly naïve,  but it doesn’t really matter for girls ages 4-8 – the target age range for this book. What does matter is that Murguia tells the tale neatly and illustrates it delightfully, whether portraying the parents’ irritation, Zoe’s pouting, Addie’s wailing, or the eventual reconciliation that guarantees that everything will be fine, just fine, from now on.

     Things always work out for Fancy Nancy, too, but it is a close call in Fanciest Doll in the Universe, in which little sister JoJo, while pretending to be a pirate, draws an indelible-marker tattoo on Nancy’s absolute favorite super-fancy doll, Marabelle – sending Nancy into hysterics and JoJo into a time-out. And that is not the worst of it, because there is a History Doll Gala coming up at a fancy nearby hotel, and Nancy’s mom offers to take her to help make up for what happened to Marabelle. But the whole setup makes Nancy a little more nervous than usual, even though she observes that “many dolls are wearing the same ensemble as Marabelle, [but] she is the most beautiful by far.” Still, Nancy avoids the doll dress shop, since trying on outfits might result in Marabelle’s embarrassing tattoo being seen. And then – well, with all those identical outfits, a mixup is pretty much inevitable, and when it happens, it turns out not only that tattoos have their uses but also that other big sisters have little sisters who do other awful things to their dolls. And that, while it does not make Nancy feel 100% better, at least helps her reconcile with JoJo and accept her apology. This is a nice little lesson to go with the always-amusing overdone appearance and Francophilic personality of Fancy Nancy. Jane O’Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser make a splendid (that means really good) team in the Fancy Nancy books, and Nancy herself is a simply wonderful combination of characteristics: always overdone but always endearing.

     Nancy Clancy, though, is not quite as much fun. Yes, this is the same character, just a bit older, and yes, traces of her younger personality remain, such as – in Super Sleuth, which was originally published last year and is now available in paperback – her rhinestone-studded magnifying glass and pink trench coat. But Nancy is not as fancy and not as big a delight in this chapter book or its sequel, Secret Admirer, because these books have her participating in very ordinary adventures that are not tied directly to her unique personality in the way that the events in the Fancy Nancy books are. There is certainly nothing wrong with Super Sleuth, in which Nancy and best friend Bree – also grown a bit older, of course – form a detective agency and, after some false starts, tackle a small but real mystery in which the solution turns out to involve, yes, JoJo. But Super Sleuth, as ably plotted and nicely illustrated as it is, remains a (+++) book, because really, how many times have authors written about tweeners and preteens trying to solve mysteries? (Nancy even refers to the Nancy Drew books, having read five of them.) The adventure here is perfectly fine, but it is an adventure that could involve any girl character of Nancy Clancy’s age, and has in fact involved quite a few of them. Because the story does not grow from Nancy’s particular character and her foibles, as do the stories in the Fancy Nancy books, this easy-to-read chapter book simply isn’t as much fun. It does, however, give young girls who are moving beyond picture books and who love Fancy Nancy a way to progress to more-complex plotting and more-challenging reading involving a character who, like those girls themselves, is growing up.

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