Review of Meet Miss Fancy

Meet Miss Fancy
by Irene Latham; illus. by John Holyfield
Primary    Putnam    32 pp.    g
1/19    978-0-399-54668-6    $17.99 

Frank (an African American boy who looks to be about ten years old) already loves elephants, with “their flip-flap ears, their tree-stump feet and their swish-swish tails,” so when he hears that a circus elephant named Miss Fancy is retiring to nearby Avondale Park, he is thrilled. However, it’s Birmingham, Alabama, in the early twentieth century, and Frank is disappointed to find out he can’t visit: “NO COLORED ALLOWED.” When his church successfully petitions the city to allow its members to have a picnic at the park, Frank is eager to go, but the offer is retracted for fear of “trouble.” “‘Trouble’ meant black people would be hurt or worse.” Miss Fancy — a known escape artist — has other ideas, and when she takes herself on a chaotic and funny walk through Frank’s neighborhood, the clever boy is able to lure her back to the park, where he gets the opportunity he’s dreamed of. Holyfield’s paintings are lush and supple, with Frank’s emotions made poignant and clear from both his face and body language. The illustrations carefully depict the clothing and houses of the early twentieth century, helping to set the scene for young readers while also conveying that Frank and his community are very much like the people they know now. Author and artist together take a small but memorable anecdote from Birmingham history (according to Latham’s author’s note, Frank is fictional, but Miss Fancy and the church picnic are not) and create a window into the Jim Crow South while also telling a compelling tale about a boy and an elephant.

From the January/February 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
Susan Dove Lempke
Susan Dove Lempke
Susan Dove Lempke is a Horn Book reviewer and director of the Niles Public Library District in Illinois.

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