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Au Revoir, Nancy! A Children’s Book Author Kisses Her Character Goodbye

Category: Art & Culture,Books

Now, however, I’ve put away my finery. No more hugs. No more banana parades. But my hope is that I’ll stay connected to kids through their letters. I’ve received hundreds over the years, usually in wobbly handwriting, often accompanied by crayon drawings. I have replied to every one; for the past three years, I’ve been corresponding with a girl in Utah — my first pen pal!

Kids write as if I’m a friend, one with whom they can be frank: “Don’t you think it would be cool if you made another book, not about Fancy Nancy but another girl, like Rockin Roxie or Preppy Patty? I think if you go with my idea you can make a lot of money.”

They confide in me. “Some days when I feel gloomy (that’s fancy for sad), I read one of your books and automatically it cheers me up,” one wrote. Another said: “One day I came home crying. A girl was picking on me because of my clothes. Then on Library Day I discovered the Fancy Nancy books. Because of those books … you helped me to be — well, me.”

Recently, I was looking through the letters I’ve saved, and it struck me that although I had loved reading from the moment I learned how, not once had it occurred to me to write to a favorite author. When I was a child, an author was just the name on the book cover; what mattered to me was the story. Still, why hadn’t I let the writer of that story know of the pleasure it had given me?

I decided it was time to rectify this oversight. Unfortunately, Ludwig Bemelmans, Kay Thompson and Dorothy Canfield Fisher are no longer with us. (If you’re asking yourself, “Dorothy who?” immediately find a copy of “Understood Betsy,” which is as fresh and funny now as when it was first published, more than 100 years ago.) But Beverly Cleary is alive. She turned 102 on April 12. So I wrote. I said that when I read “Beezus and Ramona” in 1958 I felt as if she had peered inside my head and copied down all my feelings (especially the not-so-nice ones) about dealing with a pesky younger sister. Twenty years later, when I had a job reviewing children’s books, it was her “Ramona the Brave” that made me take a leap and try writing myself.

Of all the letters I’ve received, only one has told me something similar: “Inspired” was the word the letter-writer used. Because of Fancy Nancy, a girl wrote, she was “inspired” to become an author. I can’t remember my exact reply. Undoubtedly, I offered words of encouragement. However, with absolute certainty I know how I signed off because it’s the way I’ve ended every letter since the first one arrived.

Your amie (that’s French for friend),

Jane O’Connor


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