I’ll be honest and say that prior to today, I’d never read either Fly Guy or Fancy Nancy, to my knowledge. However, I have been using them both as my go-to suggestions because of their popularity, pretending that I know what they’re actually about. For the dads who don’t even know where to start with finding their daughter a good book, there’s Fancy Nancy. For the little boys who think they’re too cool to read, I suggest Fly Guy. It hasn’t backfired yet, but I felt like it was past time that I read them before suggesting them to any more desperate parents or book-hating children.
It doesn’t take long when working with kids to figure out what’s popular among them. I knew who Mo Willems was on my first day of work. I knew that most boys can’t get enough Lego books. I knew that Diary Of A Wimpy Kid is just as popular today as it was when I was in school. I also knew that nearly every little boy knows who Fly Guy is and nearly every little girl loves Fancy Nancy.
Despite the title of this post, I am not actually going to pit Fly Guy and Fancy Nancy against one another. I just wanted to add a little drama. In reality, I decided to take two of the most popular kids’ book series and talk about what I thought of them; one for the girls and one for the boys. Also, they are so different that I don’t think I could compare them, and I’m already impartial to Fancy Nancy because I just like “girlier” books. Don’t get me wrong, I can enjoy an action-packed space adventure as much as the next guy, but I’m a sucker for a fairy-mermaid-princess falling in love and having a slumber party with all of her other magical friends (if this isn’t already a book, it needs to be) kind of story because it’s what I liked as a child.
That being said, I’ll start with Fly Guy. Every book starts off about the same way: page one explains that there is a boy with a pet fly who can pronounce the boy’s name, Buzz. I like this. A child can pick up any of the books and know some background information before reading. With an introductory page and chapters, these books prepare kids for the structure of an actual chapter book without overwhelming them. Of course, even with this introduction to Fly Guy and Buzz, I’m still stuck wondering, “Why has everyone else just accepted the fact this little boy can seemingly communicate with a fly? Is this some sort of parallel universe in which flies and humans can communicate like a human and a dog could? How do you train a fly? Is Buzz actually named Buzz, or are these stories told from Fly Guy’s perspective, and the only name he could pronounce was Buzz because he’s a fly?” Then again, I doubt any second grader will dive that far into the story. If they do, I’d like to be their friend.
The book I was most excited to read about in the Fly Guy series is titled “Fly Guy Meets Fly Girl” because, let’s face it, I will take a romantic story even if it’s in the form of two flies falling in love. I personally liked the simplicity of Fly Guy meeting this beautiful and awesome fly and practically having their whole wedding planned after a short conversation. I should not have related to his wild imagination in this moment, but I shamefully did. I do have to say, though, that I was very much let down by the ending. Spoiler alert: the story ends with them saying “let’s be friends” (in their own fly language, of course). Come on, Tedd Arnold. I know this is a kid’s book, but don’t crush Fly Guy’s fantasy like that. Let kids believe in love. He was ready to propose to Fly Girl, probably. He’s not satisfied with the friend-zone. Let him take her on a date, at least.
In all seriousness, I really did enjoy these books. They are adventurous, silly, and they encourage imagination. Buzz and Fly Guy are never bored. Whether it’s writing their own fiction stories, creating a superhero legion with a dragon, being swallowed by Buzz’s grandmother, or falling in love, there is always an adventure ahead. Also, there is the occasional gross humor that little (and big, honestly) boys seem to love.
Fancy Nancy, however, is far too fancy to laugh at such gross things. Don’t worry, she will constantly remind you how fancy she and everything that surrounds her is (you have to love her optimism). The girl has high standards, and I can appreciate that. Fancy Nancy will never do anything half-assed, nor will she ever settle. You go, Nancy.
The vocabulary in these books is phenomenal. It provides a challenge to kids of all ages. There are plenty of “big words” throughout, but Nancy doesn’t simply state them and move on. She explains, in brief, what they mean and there is even a review of all the definitions in the back of the book. There is even the occasional word in another language (usually French, because everyone knows that French is the fanciest language).
Every story is filled with applicable advice, like how to take care of a pet, the consequences of lying, and how to throw a super rad sleepover. Among the bigger lessons, there are smaller ones addressed as well. When Nancy learns the ways in which she can help protect the planet, her parents remind her not to be bossy or take it too far. That being said, they still implemented many of her suggestions, coming to a fair compromise.
The stories aside, the illustrations are incredibly colorful and fun. They remind me a bit of the Mary Engelbreit paper dolls I used to get so excited over when my mom received the Home Companion magazines in the mail every month. There really isn’t much I don’t like about Fancy Nancy. I want to be as fancy as her when I grow up.
All in all, both of these book series are wonderful in their own ways and I’m fortunate that I can finally see for myself why they are so popular, because I genuinely loved every one.
Fly Guy: written and illustrated by Tedd Arnold
Fancy Nancy: written by Jane O’Connor, illustrated by Robin Preiss
Let me know what you think!