By Holly Hobbie
Little, Brown and Company
excellent = 4 stars;
good = 3 stars;
fair = 2 stars;
poor = 1 star
Fanny is a tale of two dolls: the store-bought Connies, who embody superficial glamour, and the homemade Annabelle, who represents substance and merit. The book isn't bad as a critique of celebrity culture for kids of 4-8 years, and as an effort to get girls in particular to consider doing more with their lives than just looking hot. But one key scene sets Annabelle up as a commanding "doctor" operating on stuffed animals, while the vacuous Connies are "nurses" who stand around looking pretty and assisting Annabelle, reinforcing what are arguably the most damaging stereotypes of nursing today--the unskilled physician assistant and the naughty nurse. It would be hard to find a more blatant "feminist" attack on nursing in recent popular culture.
Fanny is a girl who wants a Connie doll for her birthday. She has asked for one before, but her mother has always refused, and mom says no this time too--even though, as Fanny notes, her two best friends Tiffany and Coco have them. Fanny's mother says she doesn't "like the way Connie dolls look. They're just too...much." This seems to mean they are too glamorous, putting too much emphasis on appearance and perhaps adult sexuality.
Fanny decides to make her own Connie doll. She does, using a pink pajama top and other materials she finds around the house. Of course, though this home-made doll is cute, with a great smile, it's obviously not as glamorous as the Connie dolls and really does not look much like them. Fanny decides to name the doll Annabelle. The doll itself speaks up and endorses the name. Fanny's mother loves Annabelle, and so does Fanny.
The next day, for Fanny's birthday, her friends come over. They bring their Connie dolls and are soon "busy dressing them and combing their long hair and posing them as gorgeous models and sassy celebrities." But her friends are nonplussed by Annabelle; the doll does look sort of "odd" next to the Connies, Fanny admits, and puts it away. When it's time for cake and presents, Fanny gets a real beginner's sewing machine as a gift from her mother. But her friends are glad they have never gotten a gift like that. They can't sew and don't want to learn because, as Coco says, "store-bought" "looks more professional." Even so, that night Fanny is worried about Annabelle in the drawer, and she takes the doll out again, hugging her and settling her into bed beside her.
The next day, Tiffany invites Fanny and Coco over to play with the Connies, but Fanny brings Annabelle. At the play date, Connie says, and her friends all agree, that it's a "perfect day to play veterinary hospital." The book shows how this works:
"The Connie dolls can be nurses," they cried, clapping their hands.
"And I think I know of a wonderful doctor," said Fanny.
All afternoon, Dr. Annabelle performed operations on every stuffed animal Tiffany owned--emergency after emergency--while the glamorous nurses assisted.
At home, Fanny's mother finds her making more clothes for Annabelle, and Fanny even makes a smaller doll for Annabelle herself to play with. And the new doll wants to be called "Connie."
Fanny is fairly well-written, and Fanny's struggle with her doll dilemma is persuasive enough, though the book is conventional and not especially inventive in its structure or illustrations. Clearly, the book's main idea is to question the influence of "sassy celebrity" culture, especially on girls, as reflected in the popular Bratz dolls (right) and countless other products. The book encourages girls to look beyond surface appeal and the shallow virtues the mass media feeds them, and to craft a future of their own design, based on merit and concern for others.
The book's portrayal of nursing occupies only one two-page spread, but those pages are a turning point in the story--the point at which the characters realize how their different dolls and perspectives can be harmonized into a coherent vision of the world. (Some recent girl-power films, particularly Akeelah and the Bee and Gracie, also use nursing at key transition points as a symbol of what able modern women do not have to settle for.) So these pages in Fanny powerfully reinforce enduring stereotypes about the roles of nurses and physicians. They focus everything the book says about Annabelle (and Fanny) in the "doctor" role, and everything it says about the Connies (and Fanny's friends) in the "nurse" role. And the book gives us no reason to question whether the "doctor" / "nurse" distinction is an appropriate way to distinguish the dolls. On the contrary, it celebrates the distinction.
Consider the qualities we come to associate with Annabelle. She is genuine, substantial, assertive, made of natural materials. She can talk, she performs important operations to help the stuffed animals, and when Fanny makes the smaller doll for Annabelle, it implies again that Annabelle herself is fit to care for others, and perhaps to be a mother. Like Fanny, Annabelle is a creator and a problem-solver, someone who will actually do something useful for society.
By contrast, the Connies are pretty and glamorous, even sexy, but also vacuous, plastic, and mass-produced. They are passive, they can't seem to talk, and there is no suggestion that they have any ideas or would be fit to care for a smaller doll. There's no indication that their "nursing" involves caring for the patients; it's just helping the "doctor." Their human counterparts, Tiffany and Coco, don't even want to learn how to create anything. At best, the Connies are helpers who stand around looking hot while Annabelle does the important work.
As concentrated in the doctor-nurse scene, this all tells young readers that physicians are the smart, commanding life-savers, while nurses are the pretty but brainless twits who help them. The imagery captures what may be the three most damaging nursing stereotypes: that nurses are unskilled, that they are physician handmaidens, and that they are mainly about female sexuality.
Fanny tells kids that if you want a real career in health care, one fit for an able modern woman, you must be a "doctor." And whatever your own career turns out to be, remember that in health care, only "doctors" are worthy of respect. Unless, of course, glamorous assisting is your thing.
Please contact Fanny author Holly Hobbie with your comments at:
And please send us a copy of your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for speaking out to advance the nursing profession!
We discuss these stereotypes in more detail in chapters 3, 4 and 5, in our book Saving Lives: Why the Media's Portrayal of Nurses Puts Us All at Risk.
Reviewed by Harry Jacobs Summers
Nursing Editor: Sandy Summers, MSN, MPH, RN
Reviewed June 4, 2010
The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Board Members or Advisory Panel of The Truth About Nursing.