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 arefriends, and the family values & enjoys their time together.
Art, commerce, taxonomy… we learn interesting things. The first book we ever read wasabout 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?
The Enneagram is super popular right now as a typology of nine interconnected personality types. I am familiar with the Enneagram and while it hasn’t been a particularly impactful tool for me personally, I value the depth of the insight and the common language it provides.
Similarly, Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies framework provides definition and a vernacular to what is already present in ourselves. For me, this one has resounded like a deafening gong in my ears & in my life!
Over the last year or so, I've made a conscious priority to read books written by — or written from the perspective of — people different than me. As a white, rich person (and I have a job, a bachelor's degree, a house, 2 cars, and 3 computers, so that sounds pretty rich to me; maybe not in the 1%, but high enough), I have a pretty limited perspective. Also, our culture is essentially designed for me to thrive, so it's easy to take that all for granted.
Books, both non-fiction and creative stories, have a way of landing you right in the viewpoint of an other, and I am so grateful for that gift; it's one of the best things about reading.
Conversations about money can be awkward, but having uncomfortable talks, at age appropriate times, will set up our children's essential, lifelong skill in handling money well. Allowance is a key tool to teaching these money management skills.
Money, along with politics and religion, is often considered impolite conversation to have outside of yourself & maybe (hopefully?) your spouse. How much do we spend on groceries, gas bill, or date nights? Is this car payment normal? We are often afraid, or at least reluctant, to compare any of these details… R. Paul Stevens said the proverbial fig leaf from the Garden of Eden has moved from our naked bodies to our bank accounts!
Add kids into these conversations, and there is an additional layer of hesitancy: kids can be notorious loud-mouths!