Name of Book: Fancy Nancy and the Mermaid Ballet
Author: Jane O’Connor
Illustrator: Robin Preiss Glasser
Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books
Audience: This book is intended for children ages 4-9.
Summary: Nancy and her best friend Brie will take part in a production of a ballet called Deep Sea Dances with their ballet company. Nancy is confident that she and Brie will both be chosen by their ballet teacher to be mermaids, because they have so much experience pretending to be mermaids during playtime. Although Nancy is very disappointed when her teacher assigns her the role of a tree, Brie was given the role of an oyster, so at least they can be disappointed together. However, a twist of fate leaves an opening for a mermaid, which the teacher assigns to Brie! Nancy is visibly torn between being happy for her best friend and feeling deep and painful jealousy at the same time. Thankfully, Nancy’s mother offers very wise words about jealousy and disappointment, and Nancy is able to overcome her jealousy and commit to her role as the most lovely willow tree in the ballet.
Literary Elements at work in the story: Fancy Nancy, the heroine of several picture books by this amazing author/illustrator team, is such a dramatic, spirited and especially expressive little girl who embraces the beauty, joy and drama in every facet of her life. You can truly feel Nancy’s joy and excitement in all the happy moments of the book and you can truly feel her pain and disappointment when things do not go the way she hoped. Nancy’s experience watching her best friend be given something that Nancy desperately wanted is a common shared experience for all people who have ever wished for something we didn’t get. Nancy so badly wants to share Brie’s delight in playing the part of a mermaid, but she cannot make herself stop feeling jealous and unhappy. Thankfully, her mother reminds her that a warm and generous heart will melt away those terrible feelings of jealousy.
How does the perspective of Gender/Race/Culture/Economics/Ability make a difference in this story?: Nancy is white and her best friend, Brie, is black. They both appear to come from middle class families who can afford finer things like sending their children to dance class. However, Nancy teaches us a great lesson about using imagination to turn simple things into fancy ones, (like cardboard boxes into mermaid castles). In that way, Nancy is an example that you don’t need to have much more than a vivid imagination to turn something ordinary into something spectacular.
Theological Conversation Partners: James 3:16 tells us that “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” When we let jealousy take over our hearts, we are in fact turning our back on all that God has given us. God gives us each individual gifts and places us where those unique gifts and talents will serve His purpose. When we compare ourselves to others and all that they have, we are in a sense rejecting the very prized possessions that God intended for us personally….not for anyone else. Jealousy and envy are such a common part of our existence, but we are told in 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy (emphasis added), it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” In order to love as we wish to be loved, we need to take our jealous feelings, hold them up to God, ask him to remind us of the gifts He has given us personally, and be thankful for them.
Faith Talk Questions:
- Think through some times in your life when you felt like your friend, relative or neighbor had a possession or a personal gift that you wish you had. What does that feel like? If you were able to do so, how did you do to overcome that feeling of jealousy?
- Do you feel you are someone who is motivated to do better because of another’s example or gift? Is this still envy, or how would you characterize this feeling?
- Nancy’s mother offers very wise advice about melting away jealousy. What words of advice would you offer to Nancy in the same situation?
This review is written by Union Presbyterian Seminary student Allison R. Tibe