April 09, 2015


Fancy Nancy—10th Anniversary Special Edition. By Jane O’Connor. Illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. Harper. $17.99.

Fancy Nancy: Spring Fashion Fling. By Jane O’Connor. Illustrated by Carolyn Bracken. HarperFestival. $4.99.

Fancy Nancy: Peanut Butter and Jellyfish. By Jane O’Connor. Illustrated by Ted Enik. Harper. $3.99.

Fancy Nancy’s Perfectly Pink Playtime Purse. By Jane O’Connor. Illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. HarperFestival. $9.99.

Nancy Clancy: My Secret Diary. By Jane O’Connor. Illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. Harper. $11.99.

Nancy Clancy, Book 5: Star of Stage and Screen. By Jane O’Connor. Illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. Harper. $9.99.

     Fancy Nancy, who is about five or six years old, has turned 10, and it is time to celebrate. That is, the character called Fancy Nancy is around five or six, but the books featuring her have been around for a decade, and this is one 10th-anniversary celebration in which fans will definitely want to take part. Nancy is a wonderful character: in love with anything and everything fancy (from clothes to food to words), far more oriented toward overdone fanciness than her matter-of-fact family (parents and little sister JoJo), but also a take-charge sort who likes to get things done – even when she messes them up. Jane O’Connor’s and Robin Preiss Glasser’s very first book about her sets the scene neatly by showing her original, non-fancy bedroom, then displaying the hilariously over-decorated room after Nancy goes to town with her version of style. Fancy Nancy, the book, is now available in a new edition – with a link to a free song – and is worth revisiting for little girls and parents who may have forgotten just how clever the whole concept has been from the start. The story introduces the characters, with Glasser doing an excellent job of visually contrasting the non-fancy family with Nancy; then Nancy, in take-charge mode, decides to teach everyone else how to be fancy, which she does – with hilarious results, as the four family members, looking thoroughly silly, stride proudly into a small local restaurant, to the befuddlement of everyone already eating there (but not to Nancy’s: she is sure everyone thinks they are movie stars). The meal goes well and suitably fancily, but Nancy gets tripped up, literally, at dessert, and suddenly home – fancy or not – looks like a mighty good place to be. Everything ends happily and reassuringly, and the scene is set for the many Fancy Nancy books that have followed, delightfully, for a decade.

     Some of those books have been spinoffs in paperback series or special offerings, generally using O’Connor’s words but having only cover illustrations by Glasser – other artists do the interior pictures. Fancy Nancy: Spring Fashion Fling has Nancy and her best friend, Bree, putting on a fashion show that features a runway made of paper, on which the models – dogs and dolls – are supposed to display the girls’ creations. Unfortunately, Nancy trips (as in the very first book) and makes a mess; fortunately (also as in the very first book) no one gets upset (except for Nancy – a little), the show goes on with some modifications, and everyone is happy. That includes young readers, who will enjoy both the story and the stickers supplied with this book. As for Fancy Nancy: Peanut Butter and Jellyfish, it is a Level 1 book (“simple sentences for eager new readers”) in the “I Can Read!” series. Yes, there are some “fancy” words in it – a list is given at the back – but this is basically an easy-to-read story about a class trip to the aquarium, where Nancy confronts and (thanks to her teacher) overcomes her fear of jellyfish, which dates to the time one of them stung her. The story neatly weaves in a bit about Nancy’s father having made too much homemade peanut butter – which turns out to come in handy when Nancy, now cured of her jellyfish fear, uses some of the leftover spread in a diorama she makes for class. A pleasantly told little tale, this will indeed help young readers learn to handle books on their own – and perhaps intrigue them enough to get them interested in reading the more-complex Fancy Nancy books for themselves.

     Not much reading is required in Fancy Nancy’s Perfectly Pink Playtime Purse and Nancy Clancy: My Secret Diary. These are activity books, the former including pictures to color and stickers to make the pictures (for instance, of a teapot, hat and three-tier birthday cake) fancier. There are things to draw, such as a tutu and tiara on Frenchy the dog, and connections to make, such as a shoe-matching game. Kids are asked to draw everything from Nancy herself (and a fancy dog leash she can use to walk Frenchy) to pirate mustaches on JoJo and her party guests (and on the long-suffering Frenchy). Easy to follow, the purse-shaped book is neatly tied in with Nancy’s love of big words – one page, for example, says to apply makeup to Nancy’s mom “to transform her from beautiful to exquisite.” As for Nancy Clancy: My Secret Diary, it is just what it sounds like, except that it ties to a couple-of-years-older version of Nancy. Fans are asked to draw their favorite things, write about their family, write about a best friend and what they like to do together, find hidden messages by crossing out letters, do some word searches and simple crossword puzzles, and so on. Here too there are some fancy words (“savory is fancy for salty,” “exasperated [fancy for frustrated],” and so on); and there are invitations to write your own story, make up your own unofficial holiday, and so forth. The illustrations of Nancy and other characters sprinkled throughout the book enliven what would otherwise be a fairly straightforward diary.

     Unfortunately, Nancy at around age nine is more straightforward than Nancy as a younger child: the Nancy Clancy books, while perfectly serviceable, are much less distinctive than those featuring the character when she is younger. The fifth older-Nancy book, Star of Stage and Screen, has a promising title and plot, since Nancy’s tendency to overdo things would seem to put her right on the road to some sort of public-performance orientation. But this (+++) book does not do very much to make Nancy’s attempted involvement in performing different from similar attempts by many other preteen characters. Nancy has difficulties interacting with her little sister, who was, according to Nancy’s mom, “born rambunctious.” Nancy has to do homework – she is creating a map of Wisconsin. Nancy gets to use some French expressions from time to time: “Sacre bleu! That was French for ‘Yipes!’” Nancy gets into a tiff about Bree’s constant practicing for a tap-dancing routine, and expresses her displeasure to several other girls just as Bree shows up – putting a strain on the Nancy-Bree friendship. Nancy tries repeatedly to apologize, but for a time Bree will have none of it; but eventually the two hug and make up, the show goes on, and Bree does beautifully. As for Nancy – well, she learns what stage fright is all about, but O’Connor pulls together all the threads of the story by having JoJo become super-helpful. Nancy does a great job, someone posts Nancy’s performance on YouTube, and Nancy – along with JoJo and Nancy’s friend Robert, who was also in the show – get to appear on a local TV show. The book is enjoyable enough, and it will appeal to readers who have outgrown the younger Fancy Nancy but still have a soft spot for the character and wish she could be closer to their age. Like the other Nancy Clancy books, this one is not as clever or offbeat as the books in the Fancy Nancy series, but fans will not be disappointed in finding that Nancy, as she gets older, continues to have interesting and pleasant adventures, if less distinctive ones than before.

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