Thursday, May 30, 2019

Dreamin' BIG! Meet Miss Fancy by Irene Latham

Frank loved elephants... their hose-pipe trunks and their flap-flap ears, their tree-stump feet and their swish-swish tales. But not once, not ever, had Frank seen a real elephant.

But then his mother tells him about Miss Fancy, a real elephant who might be coming to Avondale Park, just two blocks from his house, if the school children of Birmingham could collect enough pennies!

Frank was on it in a flash. He collected pennies for his school in a big jar, and all the other schools did, too, and Frank was at the Birmingham's train station when Miss Fancy arrived.
When Miss Fancy stepped onto the platform, he gasped.

Frank couldn't wait to see her at Avondale Park. But when he went down for Miss Fancy's first day, he saw the sign.


"It's the law," his mama said.

But Frank had bought a bag of peanuts, and he just had to feed one to Miss Fancy on her opening day. Waiting until almost closing time, he climbed a tree near her fence. He whistled to her and tossed a peanut and laughed when she waggled her trunk and stuffed the peanut in her mouth with what looked like a smile.

Miss Fancy was becoming quite a town celebrity, especially when she opened her gate and took strolls down the city streets of Birmingham, Alabama. Her picture was in all the newspapers, and she was more popular than the Ferris wheel or the boats in Avondale Lake. Still, Frank wanted to feed Miss Fancy from inside the park. He got up a petition for his church to have a special picnic in the park. The city granted the petition, but when some folks threatened to make "trouble," the picnic was cancelled. Frank had to settle for tossing peanuts to Miss Fancy from his tree outside the park walls.
But one morning, Frank woke to a neighbor's scream. "Somebody call the police!" Frank ran to the door.

"Miss Fancy!"

Miss Fancy was trampling through his mother's patch of petunias in his own front yard. Frank watched in horror as she started down the sidewalk toward a busy crossroads with lots of traffic.

There was just one thing to do. Frank grabbed his sack of peanuts and, running ahead of Miss Fancy, laid out a trail of peanuts that led her back toward the park. Miss Fancy followed her friend all the way back to the gates of Avondale Park.
"Good job, son!" said a police officer. He studied Frank for a long moment. "How would you like a ride?"

Frank laid his head against Miss Fancy and breathed in her mud-puddle smell as they paraded right through the gates of Avondale Park.

The story of Birmingham's Miss Fancy is true. My own mother and her brothers and sister told stories of many good times in Avondale Park, no doubt tossing peanuts to Miss Fancy on their way to a summer swim in the lake, and Irene Latham captures the flavor of those long ago summer days in Irene Latham's just published Meet Miss Fancy (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2019).

While Frank is her imagined protagonist, the rest of Latham's story is true, capturing the longing of black children who could not enjoy feeding Miss Fancy and swim in the cool lake on a summer afternoon. But in this Cracker-Jack of a story, Frank is a hero who would have been the envy of every kid in town, and in this lovely story of wishes fulfilled, there is a message of hope for change. Artist John Holyfield's charming retro color paintings, reminiscent of the landmark 1940s Caldecott-winning illustrations of Robert McCloskey's Make Way for Ducklings and James Daugherty's Andy and the Lion (Picture Puffins) are both moving and humorous, making this book a must-have for all children's collections.

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