Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Backyard Biologists: Fancy Nancy, Explorer Extraordinaire by Jane O'Connor

"Bonjour, everybody! Welcome to our club. Bree and I love to go exploring in the wild. We collect leaves, watch birds and butterflies, and inspect insects. If you are like us, you can be Explorers Extraordinaire.

Love, Nancy"

Fancy Nancy a wonkette? Who would have thought that the original glitter girl is devoted to field work and research with stacks of scientific tomes?

In her latest in this best-selling series, Jane O'Connor's Fancy Nancy: Explorer Extraordinaire! (HarperCollins, 2009) shows us another side of Fancy Nancy. Sure, she's still chic, with glamorous sunglasses, lacy gloves, and even little maracas in case she and her sidekick Bree feel like doing a little Latin dancing, but in her newest adventure Nancy obviously has her binoculars set on some serious exploring.

Equipped with a detailed map and a cozy clubhouse constructed from a backyard tree and some designer sheets, Nancy and Bree set out on a day-long expedition to observe trees, bugs, and birds up close and personal. The two scientists identify a variety of leaves, carefully collecting only those blown down by a storm, and describe six-spotted red lady bugs, ants, flies, and orb spiders before moving on to the life cycle (egg and caterpillar, chrysalis, and adult) of butterflies. They photograph and identify monarch, swallowtail, and red admiral butterflies, and Nancy tells us how to tell a moth from a butterfly. ("Moths' wings lie flat when they land; butterflies hold their wings upright.")

Nancy and Bree give their little brother and sister the slip (they are too "immature" (that's fancy for not grown-up enough) to be in the club as they zip back to their clubhouse for refreshments (that's fancy for snacks) and some research from the science books that Nancy has stashed there. After they sip her special pink lemonade with a dash of cranberry juice and fresh raspberries, the club's two mature (and only) members are off to study the foxglove, Queen Anne's lace, and lady slippers in Mrs. DeVine's wildflower garden.

After lunch Nancy and Bree ignore the longing looks of their little siblings to continue their nature study with some bird watching. There are pigeons, sparrows, and robins all around, but Nancy's favorite is the hummingbird ("So petite, and their wings are iridescent; that's fancy for shiny")). But while the two birders seek the elusive hummingbird, little brother and sister come up with a real nature project. They have found a baby robin who has fallen out of its nest, and they need their big sisters to come to the rescue. The baby robin is soon back home, safe and sound, and Nancy and Bree agree that their little siblings have shown real maturity in going for help to save the fallen bird.

It's back to the clubhouse, where the Explorers' Club soon initiates two very happy new junior members.

Author O'Connor works in some great mini-lessons in botany and zoology, including Nancy's six Explorers' Club rules ("Rule #3: No touching! Just looking!"). Included for fun are Nancy's instructions for easy-to-make cookie cutter and pine cone bird feeders and some pretty funny nature riddles. ("What do you call a 100-year-old ant? An antique!" (That's fancy for really old.)) Ably assisted as always by illustrator Robin Preiss Glasser, who gives Nancy her inimitable look ("Just because you're exploring doesn't mean you can't be fancy!"), O'Connor provides an informational story with plenty of new fancy words to build the vocabularies of her many loyal fans.



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