also: Fancy Nancy and The Boy From Paris &
Fancy Nancy at the Museum
all by Jane O'Connor
illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser
What began as a cute picture book for the pink-and-sparkly girly-girl set is now officially a brand, a series, and an inferior product. This, the third Fancy Nancy book, was released the same day as two I-Can-Read titles that are trading on the Fancy Nancy name and familiarity to rake in more bucks from the market.
Let's deal with the picture book for a moment. Nancy and her best friend Bree are all about the butterflies. They're typically obsessed with them to the point that Bree is going to make her birthday a butterfly party. They plan a cake, make invitations, get their outfits ready...
Oh, no! Mom suddenly realized that it her parent's 50th anniversary on the same day! Fancy Nancy is going to have to go to her grandparent's party instead. And so she has to go and tell her friend Bree the bad news.
Up to this point the book has been pretty clunky in its exposition. It doesn't feel like a story so much as little two-page set pieces for Nancy and Bree to pose in. But when we get to the spread where Nancy is apologizing to Bree we get an interesting illustration. The text says Bree is devastated by the news but it's Nancy falling all over herself, doubled over in tears. Bree has a look that says "Yeah, like you really care. This is just like you, Nancy, you big self-centered fake!" Is this a mistake in the illustration or is Bree really just pissed that she's being dumped from the story half way.
That's right, now we have an entirely different book on our hands. Bree is history.
Nancy mopes her way through the house, stops talking to people, and generally shows off just how much a brat she really is. And her parents put up with it. They get to the grandparent's place and no sooner is she off the train but suddenly it's as if she'd never been upset. The party is great and afterward they go to a butterfly exhibit at the zoo and, wow! This wasn't such a bad trip after all!
Does Nancy call Bree on her birthday? Does she find something perfectly fancy and butterfly-like to bring back to her friend? No, Nancy finds a butterfly whose color matches the color of her proposed party outfit and thinks it's the grandest of them all.
The writing is bad, the story changes midway, and what's with all the dropping of French words and phrases anyway? Well, that, my friends, has everything to do with the Fancy Nancy Brand I-Can-Read Title Fancy Nancy and the Boy From Paris. See, in order to keep the gravy train rolling they need to milk everything fancy for all it's worth. A few French words here and there might let a girl believe she's got some fanciness to her, but now we've got a real live Parisian boy to help her build her fanciness quotient. But wait, he's just a boy, and maybe he isn't so fancy after all. I mean, he likes books about cowboys, and he isn't at all interested in all things fancy. Oh well, lesson leanred. Next!
Fancy Nancy at the Museum allows our Francofile snob to get a little kulchur and some more excuses to work in her French vocabulary. In a lot of ways these beginning readers read a bit more like outlines for possible picture books and don't stand up to the same quality (in my opinion) as many other books in this series. Again, it all feels a little too calculated to be genuine. I'm not necessarily going to fault the parties involved for wanting to make a buck, but when the only way to do it drags down what little good you had before then perhaps it's time to put on the brakes and take stock. Yes, there is a market for girly-girls, girls who like pink and purple and dressing up and sparkles. But character alone can't carry an empty plot, and there's more to fancy than borrowing some French and reinforcing snobbish stereotypes.
The first, and to a lesser extend the second, Fancy Nancy picture books gave us a girl whose fanciness was a fancy of imagination. She would dress up for a dinner out, and teach her family how to be fancy, and in the end her fanciness gave her a dose of humility. Or she would covet a fancy dog, and then take care of a fancy dog, only to learn that fanciness isn't always the best quality to look for. Nicely put lessons in both. What I'm seeing now is a girl forcing the world into her fancy box and when it doesn't fit, oh well. The lesson of Bonjour Butterfly is lost on me -- is it "dump your friends when something fancier comes along?" And as for the beginning reader books, is it really such a good idea to be dropping French words onto those readers who my be having a hard enough time with English?
I hope sales on these books tank. I hope Harper takes a long, hard look at what they are doing with Fancy Nancy and either back off or find a way to return to the quality and the original spirit of the first book.
I never thought I'd see the day I'd be using the words "quality" and "original" in the same sentence as the words Fancy Nancy.