A friend introduced me to the “Fancy Nancy” series by Jane O’Connor. The concept of the series is to expose kids to ‘fancy’ words, or bigger vocabulary words than you might hear in everyday life. Fancy Nancy and I share that vision!
The Fancy Nancy books my friend gave me are level 1 readers. I would have passed these over completely, assuming they were not worthy of review and incapable of much more than ‘Dick and Jane’. I was so wrong. These stories are sweet, funny, and beautifully-illustrated. The stories are taken from real-life first grade. They are written in first person, as the protagonist shares her experiences. I love that Nancy uses big words, explains them to her readers, and looks for opportunities to use ‘fancy’ words throughout her days.
In ‘Fancy Nancy, The 100th Day of School’, Nancy struggles with the dilemma of finding an imaginative collection of 100 items to share with her class. She tells the reader, “I have a dilemma. (That is a BIG problem.)”, then reuses ‘dilemma’ and ‘imaginative’ repeatedly in the 32-page story as she rejects many ‘not imaginative’ ideas. Other vocabulary words in this little powerhouse book are: ‘elegant, fondly, huge, imaginative, slim, transparent, and verse’. What great words to fill a small child’s ears, and each one has a build in defining aside: “The bank is transparent. (That means you can see inside.)”
As a bonus, the last page of each Fancy Nancy reader has a little glossary, listing and defining the ‘fancy’ words found in the story. This provides an opportunity for pre-reading or review, adding an extra layer of exposure.
I must admit that I do cringe a little at great vocabulary words being labeled as ‘fancy’. In the current political climate, ‘elitist’ is a derisive term commonly used to separate educated people from ‘regular folks’. Education has become repugnant.
Research shows that vocabulary is the best indicator of future academic success. The easiest way to democratize education is to create a society that celebrates rather than demonizes those with the courage to learn and use rich vocabularies.
Is ‘elitist’ a ‘fancy word’ for ‘fancy’? If so, these books run the risk of alienating new readers more than educating them.
Parents need to decide for themselves. Personally, I think I would read a few Fancy Nancy books and applaud Nancy’s use of big words. It is important for kids to know that this vocabulary skill will not be appreciated by everyone. These books provide an opening to discuss politics and ‘code switching’.