February 21, 2008


Fancy Nancy: Bonjour, Butterfly. By Jane O’Connor. Illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. HarperCollins. $16.99.

Fancy Nancy and the Boy from Paris; Fancy Nancy at the Museum. By Jane O’Connor. Cover illustrations by Robin Preiss Glasser. Interior illustrations by Ted Enik. HarperCollins, $16.99 (Paris); HarperTrophy, $3.99 (Museum).

      Let us elucidate: Nancy Clancy, known as Fancy Nancy, first debuted with her love of all things French and her adoration of larger-than-usual words in the eponymous Fancy Nancy, then proved herself equally enthralling in Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy. And now, behold! She reappears not only butterfly-bedecked but also enshrined in two I Can Read books designed for enterprising new readers. And she is trés charmant at all times.

      Fancy Nancy is a delightful character, wearing an unending succession of overdone outfits supplied by her indulgent parents, and having homespun adventures that she inevitably describes in bigger words than you will find in most books for ages 4-8. Bonjour, Butterfly continues the series at its consistently high level in a story about Nancy’s plans to attend her friend Bree’s butterfly-themed birthday party – plans that are disrupted because the family must instead go to Nancy’s grandparents’ party for their 50th wedding anniversary. The fact that everything works out perfectly well for Nancy is to be expected and isn’t really the point. What is so much fun is watching Nancy overdo everything: she wants to attend Bree’s party dressed as an azure butterfly with iridescent wings (not merely a blue one with shiny wings). She pouts about missing the party by scowling, sulking and storming in a succession of outfits, including an all-black dress that clearly reflects her mood. But after traveling to where her grandparents live, she finds the perfectly ordinary motel “quite elegant” and turns the bathroom into a beauty spa by using the little bottles of bath gel, shampoo and cream (bedecking both herself and her doll, Marabelle). Nancy eventually admits she is “ecstatic to be here” and has “an extraordinary night,” after which she even gets a chance to see butterflies – at the local zoo. Nancy is so much fun because she is not only fancy but also resilient: bad moods just don’t stick to her. Jane O’Connor tells Nancy’s stories wonderfully, and Robin Preiss Glasser’s illustrations are absolute gems, getting Nancy’s personality (and her outfits) exactly right every time.

      It is a wonderful idea to use Fancy Nancy in the I Can Read series at Level 1, which is aimed at new readers. She is such a charming character that early readers will be eager to learn more about her adventures – and because she does use bigger-than-usual words, the Fancy Nancy books in this series help teach vocabulary as well as reading itself (each book lists “the fancy words” at the back, with their meanings). In the hardcover story of the boy from Paris, Nancy gets a new classmate who, she assumes, will be as sophisticated and generally wonderful as all things French must inevitably be. And the two do become friends – but because Nancy happened to be late (sorry, “tardy”) on the day the new boy arrived, she did not realize that he was not from that Paris after all (they stay friends anyway). In the paperback about the museum trip, a bumpy bus ride and a little too much lunch combine to make Nancy sick, so she has to get out of the bus – and ends up dirtying her fancy clothes. But her teacher comes up with a clever (and suitably fancy) solution, and Nancy joins everyone else in having a wonderful time. The Fancy Nancy stories are real winners – in whatever format this young mademoiselle deigns to grace.

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