|G. P. Putmnam's & Sons, 2019|
MEET MISS FANCY is written by Irene Latham (co-author of CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR?) and illustrated by John Holyfield. The extensive author note in back clarifies that characters young Frank and his minister, Reverend Brooks, are fictional, but the time, place, segregated rules for park access, petition event, and denial of access are all historically correct. Even more impressively, the eponymous MISS FANCY was an actual circus elephant who was purchased through a school-based penny collection to become a resident of Avondale Park for twenty-one years.
In this story Latham's colorful and figurative language (hosepipe trunk, flap-flap ears, and tree-stump feet) are perfectly paired with the images of lively character Frank and family/town members, representing life in a pre-WWI setting in the segregated south. The matter of fact sign on the park, NO COLORED ALLOWED, makes it clear that the previous scene of Frank's all-Black school is not accidental. His mother's fictional quotation no doubt mirrors often-repeated cautions by many voices to many young ears in those days: "Listen, Frank, I know it's not right, but it's the law, Change will take time."
This lively, delightful, and animal-friendly story should appeal to any and all, but is another fine example of ways that "Black History" belongs in everyday classrooms, homes, and story times.
Discussions may (and should) involve the reasons, racism, and injustice behind segregation policies, but will also gravitate to elephants and other fan-friendly animals (think hedgehogs, sloths, gorillas, and on and on.)
I saved this book review and commentary to share with you in late March, well-past the arbitrary boundaries of "BLACK HISTORY MONTH", that well-intentioned and double-edged effort that corrals our literary attention toward Blackness and History-ness into the shortest month of the year. This book, this character, and these discussions belong in our collections, on our shelves, under the spotlight every day of the year.
I hope you agree, and I hope you check out this entertaining and empowering book.
Side note here, but a very significant part of the Author's Note to share: Miss Fancy resided in the park for twenty-one years, but then was sold to the Cole brothers-Clyde Beatty Circus. She toured with the circus for two years before being sold to the Buffalo Zoo in Buffalo, New York, where she lived on until 1954. Animal rights also becomes a worthy topic, considering lives of elephants and other wild animals in circus touring, in zoos, and in sanctuaries, such as THE ELEPHANT SANCTUARY in Tennessee. Webcam views of elephants in natural habitats can be accessed here.