Fancy Nancy, Explorer Extraordinaire

written by Jane O'Connor
illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser

Jane O'Connor's Fancy Nancy, Explorer Extraordinaire
illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser

Book review by Sherri Trudgian

Ages 4-8

For both the creative and curious princess!

For the past five years I have been living on a desert island inhabited only by boys. Somehow I missed the Fancy Nancy train. I just discovered it has upward of twenty cars. While thirty years ago I would have been waiting breathlessly for the newest arrival (I have been known to sew a twirly dress or two), my grandsons just don’t seem interested in boas, or bows.

Fancy Nancy Explorer Extraordinaire has more than just a froufrou appeal. While Jane O’Connor continues to build the reader’s vocabulary, she has managed to incorporate an abundance of scientifically accurate information. It not only expands the reader’s knowledge base but will, hopefully, ignite a new sense of curiosity. Please don’t get me wrong. There are still plenty of pink hearts, fuchsia leotards, ribbons, sparkles, and sunglasses to sate the desires of any young princess!

The Explorer Extraordinaire club was founded by the flamboyant Fancy Nancy and her best friend Bree. Being a very high-class club, it comes complete with membership card, club house, essential and non-essential apparel, rules for appropriate etiquette, and a map laying out the club boundaries.

Knowledge and exclusivity are the keys to power. Fancy Nancy manages to wield it with flair over want-to-be members Freddie and Jo-Jo (Nancy’s little sister). However immature or “babyish” these two preschoolers seem to Nancy, she does allow them to tag along on this adventure.

Not unlike mothers who disguise vegetables in fruit smoothies for their picky eaters, Jane O’Connor advances her story by cleverly combining scientific information with the six club rules.

Rule # 2 “Nobody in the club thinks bugs are gross.” … “Insect is the real word for bug. All insects have wings, antennae, and six legs.”

Rule # 3 “No touching just looking.”

Here Fancy Nancy explains to Freddie and Jo-Jo that the queen of the ant colony lays all the eggs but unfortunately doesn’t get to wear a crown. They also learn why flies can walk on the ceiling and that ladybugs eat insects harmful to plants.

Rule # 5 “We never catch butterflies because they are fragile.”

Nancy introduces the reader to the life cycle of the butterfly from “plain” caterpillar, “even plainer” chrysalis to a “fancy” butterfly.

collaged images from the book

We also discover (a) the differences between a moth and a butterfly (b) that a squirt of perfume coupled with bright, colorful clothes is the preferred ensemble for attracting butterflies (c) that wildflowers “grow … without any help from people” and (d) that birds can fly because they have hollow bones.

At this point we are also introduced to the official Explorer Extraordinaire Club bird. The hummingbird was picked (no doubt) because of its ruby red throat and attraction to red flowers.

Jane O’Connor has created a heroine who has “je ne sais quoi” – a flair for fashion, a love for everything “français”, and just a hint of sass.

As “practically a leaf expert” Nancy explains the difference between deciduous and evergreen trees.

At times Nancy’s attitude can appear somewhat condescending.

“… Mom says it’s good luck if a ladybug lands on you. But club members do not think that is scientifically accurate.”

“My sister scribbled here. She thinks it’s real writing.”

However sassy Fancy Nancy may be, she is a lovable character and redeems herself by the end of the story. After the restoration of a baby robin to its nest, Freddie and Jo-Jo (now considered heroes) are unanimously voted into the Explorer Extraordinaire club.

Review - Fancy Nancy: Explorer Extraordinaire

Ms. O’Connor’s unabashed appeal to girls can be seen in her choice of specimens gathered by the explorers.

The wildflowers are all associated with clothing, i.e. “Foxglove”, “Lady Slipper” and “Queen Anne’s lace”. We learn that Mrs. DeVine uses the fan-like Ginkgo leaf to make her tea and that the jagged edge of the maple leaf or individual round edges of the honey locust can also be very decorative.

Ms. O’Connor’s pièce de resistance is of course sprinkled liberally with words such as “bonjour” and “voilà”. It also comes complete with several riddles, a recipe for Nancy’s “Extra-Fancy” pink lemonade, instructions for the construction of two fancy bird houses and a glittered “leaf crown”.

I don’t think Nancy would have been quite as fancy without the collaboration of Robin Preiss Glasser. In her picture of the Butterfly-Hunting Ensemble, she has captured the essence of Fancy Nancy. Not only are the girls decked out in colorful ribbons and flowers but Nancy and Jo-Jo pose with arms delicately raised and noses held extra high in the air.

Robin has sprinkled photographs amongst her illustrations which enhances the authenticity of the science.

I was also impressed by the very detailed map of the club territory. She included a mail basket running between the two friends’ houses via a clothesline. How cool is that!

Any series can become tired after a long run. Fancy Nancy: Explorer Extraordinaire! however is both smart and sassy. I highly recommend it “pour votre jeune fille.”

P.S. Being somewhat dubious about one of the hummingbird claims, I did google it and found that their wing speed which normally averages between 40 – 80 beats per second can in fact go as high as 200 beats per second when mating!

More kids' books celebrating science.

Read more of Sherri's reviews.

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