In the spirit of summer reading book reports, I have a new favorite heroine. Fancy Nancy.
No really, I mean it. That kid is awesome. I know that I frequently hate on the girly girl princess culture that sends our daughters all sorts of harmful subliminal messages about their worth in the world. However, i do not hate all things girly. A little sparkle here and there can go a long way to draw a kids’ eye to something that has value at the core. [however, just don’t get me started on Zondervan’s Precious Princess Bible… seriously. another post, another day.]
And Fancy Nancy has significant value. Not only can my not-quite-3-year-old say words like “eccentric” and “perplexed” and “Sacajawea,” but mom and dad love to read these books too. They have actual storylines, something that many kids books these days lack utterly. (Ever tried to read a Disney book that has been translated from a movie? They are downright incoherent. A 90-minute movie does not condense into 20-pages and still allow for complete sentences.)
But beyond the great stories, I find that Nancy, her parents, her sister Jojo, even her friends and her teacher, Mrs. Glass, have real-person value. Much of kid-lit negelcts that value in favor of the sensational, the wildly imagined, the fantastical…and while there’s a time and place for that, i think kids need stories about real kids, too. And Nancy is as real as they come. Case in point–once when Harper was sick and miserable, I told her that I was sure even Fancy Nancy threw up sometimes. Not much later, I found the book wherein–you guessed it–Nancy got sick on the bus on a school field trip. It was not pretty or princess-y, but it happens to real kids all the time. And to our beloved Nancy.
The other thing I value a great deal about this young lady is the way in which she handles such “unfancy” moments. She adapts. She copes. She gets a grip on the bigger picture and finds some other way to be fancy. Even if, as she puts it, “it is hard, sometimes, being the only fancy person in a family.”
What’s that I hear? Is that a little bit of empathy, oozing from the pages of a silly-looking kids’ book? What (7?) year old recognizes that not everybody in the world is JUST LIKE THEM? What small child wants to make friends with the new kid from Paris (even if it does turn out to be Paris, Texas,) so he will feel at home? What kid gives up something they really, really want in order to give to someone else? Nancy, that’s who. She just looks so darn cool doing it, kids never even notice they are getting a lesson in how to be a real person.
Who I really love are Nancy’s parents. They, as their daughter points out, are decidedly UNfancy, and yet, they are cool. They play along. They encourage her creative flair, they take lessons in being fancy and wear ridiculous costumes out to dinner. And yet, they almost always seem to be reading the paper, cooking dinner, talking and drinking coffee, while the girls play happily closeby. In a culture where the helicopter parenting is nurtured and glorified by any number of blogs, movies, tv shows and [sorry, usually Christian] books and “family” programming curriculum, it is nice to see a nod to non-anxious family living.
I say this with the awareness that having 2 kids who will play happily together while mom and dad chill nearby, takes some EXCELLENT and intentional parenting, in the early years and all along. Some modelling of values like empathy, creativity, independent thinking, and even an absurd refusal to be ordinary. At my house, we do not model all of these things perfectly–and Lord knows, we don’t do them in an orderly fashion–but we do them with intention. It may not be fancy, but if it buys me mornings sipping coffee and flipping through a magazine while my kids play together nicely, then i will take it.
So, thank you, Jane O’Connor, for dreaming up this terrific little girl. Thank you, Fancy Nancy, for being so fancy, and for being so sparkly and interesting. And thank you, Fancy’s mom, for donning the tiarra on occasion, even if you’d rather be in your sweatpants.
I only wish there was a spin-off series for boys (think Deigo) that was not quite so sparkly and fuscia (that’s a fancy word for hot pink) but still got across those priceless values of self-expression, family connection, and concern for the happiness of others. Because while all the frills and feathers and bedazzled whatevers that fill Nancy’s closet are SUPER girly, her quirky, curious and loving way of tripping through the world should not be reserved for our daughters.
Here’s hoping that both my kids love a good story, a new friend, and a few minutes to play and dream without mom and dad being all up in their business about it. If that’s what lies at the heart of the sparkle, and if I have to wear a feather boa to get there, then I will gladly comply (that’s fancy for suck it up and do it anyway. Mom-style).