Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Fancy Nancy: Bonjour Butterfly

Fancy Nancy: Bonjour Butterfly
by Jane O'Connor
Illustrations by Robin Preiss Glasser

A few years ago, I would have walked past this book with a condescending smirk perhaps, thinking not another Strawberry Shortcake, please, telling myself that glorifying ritzy flashy stuff is not for my little girl, she deserves what my adult mind classifies as worthy.

But, there's flashy, and then there's classy. I think Fancy Nancy is classy in her own way.

After Stellaluna and Beatrice's Goat, I was looking for something light and chirpy. A quick glance at the library revealed delightful illustrations with just a couple of sentences on each page that are easy to read and engaging, so, I brought it home to see how Ana, my 3-year-old (soon-to-be-4) would respond to it.

The opening page depicts Nancy's mom and sister, and another kid (probably Bree's little brother) in the garden, in work clothes, digging and planting tomatoes and sweet peas, while Nancy looks gorgeous in her coordinated outfit and shoes, jumping up daintily with her friend Bree, trying to catch butterflies.

Don't you think butterflies are exquisite?
(Exquisite is even fancier than beautiful)

The illustrations by Robin Preiss Glasser are enchanting: they capture the emotions in every page and deliver it with a great sense of humor and drama. They pop out with exuberance and irresistible appeal, especially to a fancifully-inclined 3-year-old girl, and dare I say, even to her jaded middle-aged mom.

Nancy is depicted not as a skinny Barbie-wannabe or a cloying Disney-esque heroine or a pretentious know-it-all or even a charmingly precocious brat, but as a fairly average and rounded little girl with a natural flair for finery. She is smart and curious, assertive and determined, yet polite and congenial. She seems prone to histrionics but in a charming and agreeable way, if that's ever possible.

That is not all. This book has a valuable message that is not easy to convey to the little ones: You can't get everything you want; disappointments happen; we deal with it, make the best of it and move on.

Nancy wants to go to her friend Bree's birthday party. She helps Bree design the invitations.

fancy nancy bonjour butterfly childrens book revire jane o'connor robin preiss glasserI show her how to turn the Bs into Butterflies on the invitations. You are so lucky your name begins with a B, I tell her.

She is excited about going as an Azure butterfly with bright blue wings and - what's the fancy word for shiny? - Oh, yes! Iridescent, she says.

But, her mom decides she cannot go because they are already committed to going to Nancy's grandparents' fiftieth wedding anniversary party which happens to be on the same day as Bree's birthday party.

Mom says, "Bree's birthday is special. But being married for fifty years - that's exceptional. That's extraordinary!"

Clearly, Nancy is furious about this.

If my mother thinks using fancy words will make me feel better, she's wrong!

For the next two days, I scowl, I sulk and I storm around the house.
Mad is way too plain for how I feel.

The illustrations showing Nancy's disappointment and distemper are quite amusing and clever, simply spectacular.

However, she perks up at seeing her grandparents and has a blast at the party eventually.

At the party, I have so much fun, I forget to be furious.
...It really is an extraordinary night.

Before heading back home from her grandparents' place, Nancy's parents take her to the Butterfly Garden at the Zoo where she enjoys herself immensely. I can't wait to tell Bree about it, she says, getting over the disappointment at missing Bree's birthday party with the easy buoyancy that most little kids are blessed with.

Author Jane O'Connor exhibits a keen understanding of the workings of the little minds and respects them enough to liberally pepper the book with words that seem out-of-league at first glance, but are defined by Fancy Nancy herself and used in context perfectly. Birth to about six years being the prime time for kids to gain mastery over languages and communication skills, the author has cleverly kindled literary curiosity in the little minds through the adorable character that they can easily relate to and even emulate.

This is clearly not a book for all kids. I am sure little boys won't care for it much; and, had I seen this book as a kid, I am not sure I would've liked it much either as I wasn't terribly fancy myself - am not even now. But, Ana, my soon-to-be-4 year old identifies with Nancy, and so far, has made me read the book at least twice every night for the last week, stopping me from turning the pages too fast and pointing out all the minute details that Robin Preiss Glasser has worked into each page.

The market is probably overcrowded with adorable little girl characters who love all things frou-frou and conduct themselves regally. But what sets Nancy apart is her plain-Jane family who don't just tolerate but sincerely support Nancy in her fanciness and let her be who she wants to be. No judgments, no jibes.

Now, I am not subscribing to all the franchised merchandise that inevitably follow such a popular character, but, certainly a few of the original Fancy Nancy books by Jane O'Connor we've read so far seem quite entertaining and educational.

I was quite fascinated by the debut book Fancy Nancy, where Nancy is introduced to us in a rather brilliant way. First page shows a pretty colorless room with a few books and toys in it with Nancy stating, 'This is my room before I made it fancy.' And the next page, predictably, shows the room in full splendor with Nancy declaring, 'I love being fancy.'
And, thanks to Fancy Nancy: Bonjour Butterfly, Ana's vocabulary now includes "exquisite", "gorgeous", "elegant", "merci", "repondez s'il vous plait" and of course, "bonjour".

All in all a brilliant combination of lavish art and rich text, sure to entertain and cultivate the young mind.


Praba Ram said...


This is the height of COI! :-) My 6 yr old brought this book two days ago, from her school library to read to her little sister... :-)

I'm totally with you on the point about - "condescending smirk....what my adult mind classifies as worthy..." You are smart in getting over that mental block and picking the classy books early on... I still need help on that front...! :-)

Now that K checks out books for herself at the school library, we see a lot of these very girly ones and/or school friends character based stories come home...Arthur and Friends books being one of her favorite to read to herself..and Fancy, Nancy - Angelina Ballerina etc. to read to her little sister...! :-) I guess, now you know why I haven't reviewed much these days.

Thank you for this..I need to get over my biases and start reviewing books that K brings home. With S, we are doing a lot of repeat reads of her sister's toddler books.:-)

Oh another thing - there sure is a "learn to appreciate another culture" element in Fancy Nancy - which is your kid gets to read words in French! :-)

Sorry my comment is like a post...:-)

Praba Ram said...

Yet another beautifully written review! :-)

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