The Not-So-Fancy Ladies Behind “Fancy Nancy,” the Children’s Book Inspired by a North Shore Girl

If you have a little girl between the ages of 3-7 (or close), shine up those tiaras and rhinestones ASAP: The authors of “Fancy Nancy” will be at Barnes & Noble Old Orchard on November 18 at 7 p.m. to read from the latest book, “Fancy Nancy: Splendiferous Christmas.”

Since the 2005 debut, the “Fancy Nancy” series, written by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser, has become a triumph. That’s a fancy word for success.

The books—more than 10 have already been published, and 40 are planned for the series—have sold more than 8 million copies and been translated into 18 languages. The first book spent nearly 100 weeks on The New York Times best-seller list and the concept has spawned countless dolls, kits and the like.

JessieBut you might not know that Nancy is based on a North Shore girl: Wilmette’s Jessie Regunberg (picture left, circa 1992), Glasser’s niece who is now a teacher at North Shore Country Day.

Make It Better sat down with Glasser and O’Connor to talk about their North Shore inspiration and love of everything fancy.

MIB: Now that Jessie is all grown up, is she still fancy?

RPG: Jessie, who was always draped in rhinestones in pre-K, grew up to get her degree from Vassar College and won two history awards and is a very serious [young woman].

The fear [about “Fancy Nancy”] at the beginning was that women would say, “Well, I don’t want my little girl being that kind of little girl, who just thinks that fanciness is the most important thing—it’s really what’s inside.”

[In fact, the lesson is] it’s fine to have this fun on the outside, but what’s important is goodness on the inside—that message goes through all the books.

MIB: Jane, you must be quite sesquipedalian, which is fancy for likes-to-use-big-words, given all the interesting words that are in the books. Do you love words in real life?

JO: I’ve been in publishing all my life, so words are pretty important to me. The character is not just a little girl who likes dressing up, but a little girl who thinks big words are fancy, too.

MIB: Robin, after Jessie, what else has inspired you?

RobinRPG: I’m a former [professional] ballet dancer and Nancy is always dancing around and posing in ballet positions and wears tutus and tiaras. That’s an extension of all my years in ballet. Children are always wiggling or moving or stretching or reacting; my illustrations have a lot of movement.

MIB: What is the most rewarding part of having illustrated these books?

RPG: Absolutely going to these events. Jane and I both love meeting all these adorable children. We walk fancy, by balancing a banana on our heads. Yesterday all the kids were running around with the bananas on their heads. It was hilarious, and so much fun.

MIB: Are you fancy?

Not at all. Very few adults are. That gene for glitziness just gets recessive as you get older. Little girls love to sparkle and shine, maybe it’s because they’re little and it’s hard to get attention—you get more if you’re glittering. I’m very tailored and understated, which is fancy for plain.

RPG: I love to get dressed up for special occasions. But for everyday, I have my hair pulled back in a ponytail and no makeup.

MIB: I know the events are the best part for you, but, umm … are you worried about catching swine flu?

JaneOConnorJO: (Laughing) It has occurred to us that it may not be the best idea to be smooching and hugging these kids. I’m a pretty hardy soul, but on other tours I’ve gotten some kind of flu. For the first time, I’ve taken Purell with me.

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