Jane O’Connor, the author of the ‘Fancy Nancy’ series, learned that Braeburn Elementary School dedicates a day to her beloved character, and decided to visit the West Hartford School.
By Ronni Newton
Best-selling children’s book author Jane O’Connor was thrilled, and knew immediately that she wanted to visit Braeburn Elementary School once she learned that the school dedicates a day to Fancy Nancy – every single year.
“The minute I heard there was a Fancy Nancy day, I had to be here,” O’Connor, who lives in New York City, said Friday after she finished reading one of her best-selling books about Fancy Nancy Clancy to a group of third-graders.
Every spring for the past seven or eight years, Library Media Specialist Claudine Lavoie has been holding a “Fancy Nancy” day, where Braeburn students – boys as well as girls, and staff – dress up in glittery tiaras, boas, tutus, suits, and other “fancy” attire favored by O’Connor’s character, and celebrities visit the school to read them books by the popular author.
The story of last spring’s Fancy Nancy Day caught the attention of the series’ illustrator through social media, and she told O’Connor about it. O’Connor said that as far as she knows, Braeburn is the only school in the country that has the yearly tradition. A school in Queens did it once several years ago, she said.
On Friday, balloons and a red carpet lined the entrance to Braeburn, and the entire school was decorated with welcome signs, pink and purple lanterns, and all things glittery and feathery. It was definitely fancy.
O’Connor read to the students, answered their questions, and taught them skills like curtsying and bowing, and practicing good posture posture by balancing a banana on their heads. “It’s less dangerous than a book,” she said of the banana balancing.
O’Connor said she has always loved writing stories, and wrote her first book in 1981. The first “Fancy Nancy” book was written in 2002, however due in part to the schedule of illustrator Robin Preiss Glasser, it wasn’t published until 2005. Now there are dozens of stories in the series, ranging from picture books to easy readers, to chapter books designed for children from second to fourth grade.
The idea for Fancy Nancy Clancy – the character’s full name – just popped into O’Connor’s mind one night after dinner, she said.
O’Connor asked the students where they thought character came from, and some thought perhaps she had a daughter or granddaughter who liked to play dress up. The inspiration was actually from her own childhood, said O’Connor. She has two grown sons but no daughters, and hopes to one day have grandchildren but doesn’t yet have any.
“When I was little I was always trying to get my mother to wear more jewelry, more makeup,” O’Connor said. She said she was always doing a makeover on her mom.
“I was like a hothouse orchid in a family of daisies,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor also learned French when she was in school. Fancy Nancy sprinkles quite a bit of French into her vocabulary, because it sounds “fancier” and would be something Fancy Nancy would want to learn, O’Connor said.
Fancy Nancy also likes to make her whole world fancier. But at the same time, she’s accident prone – just like O’Connor was as a child.
She showed the students a picture of herself as a child, dressed as a ballerina. “What’s that on my leg?” she asked the kids? “A boo-boo,” one answered. “Most pictures of Jane as a child had a boo-boo and a band-aid,” O’Connor said.
“What does Nancy’s room look like before she made it fancy?” O’Connor asked a group of kindergartners and first graders, who were listening attentively as she read from the original “Fancy Nancy” book. “It looks ‘understated,'” said Fiona, a precocious first-grader who told O’Connor she owns all of the “Fancy Nancy” books.
O’Connor speculated on reasons why Fancy Nancy is so popular. “I think she follows her own sense of who she is,” O’Connor said. “She’s not trying to look or be like anyone else. That’s something everyone can relate to.”
Nancy, O’Connor said, is “do it yourself fancy.”
O’Connor stayed for the entire day, reading to the various grade levels and enjoying lunch with the Braeburn staff. She even did a book signing after school and said she looks forward to returning for the next “Fancy Nancy” Day.
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