Books

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Meet Miss Fancy’ by Irene Latham, illustrated by John Holyfield

c.2019, G.P. Putnam’s Sons
$17.99 ($23.99 Canada)
32 pages

Ever since you were a little kid, you’ve had a great big wish.

You’ve always wanted that one thing. You’ve schemed and asked, begged and plotted, but you still don’t have it. As in the new book “Meet Miss Fancy” by Irene Latham, illustrated by John Holyfield, whatever’s stopping you just isn’t fair.

More than anything in the world, Frank adored elephants. He loved everything about them: their big long trunks, their “flap-flap ears,” and the way their feet looked like the bottom of a tree. He thought about them, drew them on paper, and imagined what they might feel like.

Frank loved elephants, but he’d never seen a real-life one. That’s why he became super-excited when his mother mentioned Miss Fancy, how she was retiring from the circus, and that the city was hoping its schoolchildren might raise the money to afford to buy her. And they did. They did!

On the day that Miss Fancy finally arrived, Frank was there to welcome her. She was ENORMOUS and loud and he couldn’t wait to meet her in person, but as Frank followed the crowd into Avondale Park, he was stopped by a small sign at the entrance.

“No Colored Allowed.” And that meant Frank.

But that couldn’t be! How was he supposed to feed peanuts to Miss Fancy if he couldn’t go to the park? Mama said it was the law, but that didn’t make Frank feel any better, and so he did his second-best: he tossed peanuts over the fence to his big friend while he thought.

There had to be a way inside, right? Miss Fancy had escaped from a park a time or two — and if an elephant can get out of a park, why couldn’t Frank get in? Alas, even that was impossible, so Frank had to face facts: he simply wasn’t ever going to meet Miss Fancy — but Miss Fancy had other ideas …

Have you ever wanted something so much that it consumes you, only to see it just out of reach for the worst of reasons? That frustration is what your child will find inside “Meet Miss Fancy.”

Based lightly on a true story about a real elephant in Birmingham’s Avondale Park, this book is a real double-delight. Author Irene Latham brings a big tale to kids who admire pachyderms but have no access to them, and to those who are just starting on a path toward understanding Black history. Indeed, this tale shows a small side of injustice, but in a gentle way that even little children can grasp.

The other side of the delight is the artwork by John Holyfield. It’s colorful and packed with fun action and plenty of detail. Don’t be surprised if you find your child paging through this book later, just to look at those pictures within.

Any 5- to 8-year-old who loves a good animal story with a happy ending will sit still for this one. You’ll love its afterword, too. For you and for your child, “Meet Miss Fancy” is a big attention-getter.

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