This month’s “woman of dignity” is not a woman at all, and actually is not even a real person. Meet: Nancy. Nancy Clancy. Fancy Nancy.
I’ll be honest: when I first heard of “Fancy Nancy”, I definitely rolled my eyes. All of the pink and princess and fancy and whatnot can be tiresome for a mother of daughters. I am not particularly feminine or fussy and I don’t even like the spa. I immediately assumed that “Fancy Nancy” would be a girl who was shallow and silly and without much to offer to my impressionable young daughters (aged 4 & 6).
After reading some 35+ picture books and 5 chapter books – more than once, I assure you – I am convinced that she is one of the most well-written, deep characters in all of children’s fiction. Jane O’Connor offers children a role model with dignity, complexity and a high quality of character. I LOVE Nancy and here is why:
Photo credit: Nick Agro OC Register
She loves being fancy, and her mom loves her in her world. Nancy’s mom is decidedly un-fancy, choosing plain ballcaps, solid, muted colours for her clothes, and plain nail polish. But, she indulges her daughter in what is clearly a foreign world to her. Sure, honey, you can use the Christmas tinsel garland to make a boa, and by the way, I picked up some glitter markers for you. I love that in the Clancy household, different personalities are appreciated, cultivated, and enjoyed.
But, Mom & Dad do not give her whatever she wants. Nancy is no pauper (she is written, as most children’s characters, in the middle-to-upper middle class), but her passion for “all things fancy” majorly fuels her creativity. She wanted a canopy bed, so improvised with mop handles & a bedsheet. She saw a lace fan on the bargain table at a boutique, so created her own yard “boutique” to raise the money to buy it. I love the hustle & the ingenuity.
The assumption that siblings (even if they are at times difficult or frustrating) are a joy and a gift. Nancy’s little sister JoJo (whom, I think, is around 4 years her junior) is “a handful”. She steals, she tantrums, she uses permanent market in undesirable places (like Nancy’s favourite doll)… It would be very easy to caricaturize Jojo as the annoying little foil to Nancy the protagonist. Instead, she is written as a work-in-progress, with reminders to Nancy (via her wise, loving Mom) that she herself had troubles growing up and Jojo is figuring it out, too. I love that through it all, the sisters are friends, and the family values & enjoys their time together.
Art, commerce, taxonomy… we learn interesting things. The first book we ever read was about art, with references to Monet, Degas, Matisse, & Pollock, and concludes with Nancy & her friends holding their own art show. Other books explore astronomy & poetry, feature her backyard naturalist explorations, mystery solving, history, & entrepreneurship. I love that Nancy has introduced my girls to these subjects, sparking an interest in learning more.
She lives in the tensions of real-world social relating. There is a girl in her class who is irritating & obnoxious. She brags, she butts in to conversations, she can be mean, and she thinks she is better than all the other girls. We know this girl – she was definitely in my classes growing up, and she is guaranteed to be in my kids’!
But, rather than writing her off, being mean in return, or silently suffering, Nancy continues to negotiate various social interactions without sacrificing her own dignity, or the dignity of the mean girl. I love that we read real world examples of how a kind girl can relate to a difficult peer with confidence, sacrifice, and a lot of grace.
Obvs, the splendid (that’s fancy for really good) vocabulary. Nancy, being as fancy as she is, loves fancy words. Magnificent, stellar, extraordinary, posh words. The words that my children now use on a regular basis totally crack me up and I love their hilariously expanded vocabulary.
If you, like me, are looking for more this summer – more books to read, more activities to do, more art projects to create, etc. – I recommend starting with Nancy!
What are your best picks for kids' books? What were your favourites as a child? Any complementary suggestions for boys?