Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we plunge into the topics swimming through readers’ heads and recommend some books you could splash out on (if so inclined), just for the halibut.
Fans and the worldwide box office went wild this past weekend for the live-action version of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, directed by Rob Marshall (Chicago) and starring Halle Bailey as Ariel. The movie had a (sea) monster of an opening weekend, and has everyone humming “Under the Sea,” and hunting for a wacky seagull friend.
Since there seems to be a market for mermaid fare, we’re recommending mer-aculous books for all ages, from picture books to young adult. Dive in for some fin-tastic reads!
Like Prince Eric and Ariel, but platonic, The Mermaid Moon by Briony May Smith celebrates a friendship between two best friends – one living on land, and the other on the water. Mermaid Merrin and human Molly are best friends with limited interaction until the Mermaid Moon Festival: the sole night of the year mermaids can leave the sea. (And you don’t even have to offer a sea-witch your voice!)
In things we already knew, Mermaids Are Real! says the title of a board book by Holly Hatam, who also brought us Unicorns Are Real! and Dragons Are Real! But not only does the book speak to mermaids’ veracity, it also notes they are vegetarian (which explains how Flounder and Sebastian got along with Ariel), along with many other mermaid fun facts.
Speaking of learning: schools aren’t just for fish; they’re also for mermaids, as seen in the picture book Mermaid School by Joanne Stewart Wetzel and Julianna Swaney. The book follows mermaid Molly’s first day at mermaid school, during which they count clamshells, recite the A B Seas, and even read outlandish stories about children who walk on land, in a fantastical underwater first day of school.
A celebration of every girl who dreamt of being a mermaid, Kate Pugsley’s Mermaid Dreams tells the story of Maya, a shy little girl who falls asleep on the beach and finds herself transported underwater, where she lives as a mermaid with her other mermaid and sea creature friends. Even better – her aquatic adventure inspires her to reach out friends on the beach when she awakens.
A little girl turns into a mermaid eco-hero in Mermaid Kenzie: Protector of the Deeps by Charlotte Watson Sherman and Geneva Bowers. When Kenzie slips on her mermaid tail, she imagines herself as Mermaid Kenzie, protector of the deeps. One day as Kenzie snorkels around a shipwreck, she discovers more plastic bags than fish. Grabbing her spear and mermaid net, she begins to clean up the water and the shore – inspiring other kids to keep the oceans clean.
And mermaids give a little of the old razzle-dazzle in Brigitte Barrager’s Harmony & Echo: The Mermaid Ballet. Super-chill mermaid Harmony is determined for her anxiety-plagued friend Echo to enjoy their debut performance in the big Mermaid Ballet. And the best way to overcome oceanic stage fright is coincidentally the same way to get to Carnegie Hall: practice!
You’ll have to wait until June 6, but landlocked mermaid lovers will be thrilled by Kallie George and Elly MacKay’s picture book, I Am a Meadow Mermaid. A farm girl on the prairies dreams of adventures in the ocean even though she is far from “under the sea.” It’s a picture book that celebrates imagination and recognizes you don’t have to live seaside to love the idea of mermaids.
Technically, Heba, the main character of A Mermaid Girl by Sana Rafi and Olivia Aserr, isn’t a mermaid. But she feels like one the first summer she gets a new, yellow burkini, and can enjoy the community pool with her friends for the first time. Heba is reminded of all the “mermaid girls” in her family, sparkling in their burkinis in a book that celebrates Muslim traditions and summertime swims.
Rounding out our picture books of mermaids that maybe aren’t mermaids in the breathe-underwater sense is classic picture book Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love. A buoyant celebration of self-love and genderfluidity, the story follows young Julián after he notices three women dressed spectacularly on the subway, all on their way to the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. When Julián gets home, daydreaming of the magic he’s seen, all he can think about is dressing up just like the ladies in his own fabulous mermaid costume. Methinks Julián needs to meet up with Heba and the kid from I Am a Meadow Mermaid!
CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE
A nonfiction survey at everything from the Hans Christian Andersen tale, the Disney animated feature, sirens, the mami wata of Africa and the ningyo of Japan, The Very Short, Entirely True History of Mermaids by Sarah Laskow and illustrated by Reimena Yee will answer all your boiling mermaid questions.
Mermaids meet surf culture in the tubular graphic novel Sea Sirens by Amy Chu and Janet K. Lee, as Trot, a spunky Vietnamese American surfer girl and her cantankerous talking cat, Cap’n Bill, wipe out and get sucked down into a magical underwater kingdom. Only one problem: a totally gnarly battle is being waged between the beautiful Sea Siren mermaids and the Serpent King (not this guy) and his slithery minions. I’m already stoked!
Like The Little Mermaid but with more palace politics, Once Upon a Tide: A Mermaid’s Tale by Stephanie Kate Strohm features aquatic diplomacy at its finest. The book features Princess Lana, the youngest ambassador for the underwater kingdom. She’s sent to the Royal Festival, trading her mermaid tail for a clumsy pair of legs―and having to spend a week with her mother, who chose life on land over the sea – where intrigue ensues.
In nine books, the Emily Windsnap series, written by Liz Kessler, feature the adventures of everyone’s favorite half-mermaid. (Does that mean she’s only a quarter-fish?) Twelve-year-old boat dweller Emily feels an uncanny connection to the sea. A connection that is explained once she takes swimming lessons and learns of her mermaid side. Soon, she’s making mermaid BFFs, battling sea monsters, and uncovering the many secrets of King Neptune.
For younger chapter book readers, there’s the Purrmaids series by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and Vivien Wu. You wouldn’t think cats and fish would mix – cats generally hate water and like eating fish – but mermaid kittens Angel, Coral, and Shelly are best friends who don’t fit your preconceived notions of fish hybrids. They love swimming around their home of Kittentail Cove and getting creative at sea school, and there are 14 books in their adventures to read, chronicling everything from sleepovers to holiday fun at Fish-mas.
While there are whole series with mermaid content, there are also a few mermaid episodes in other popular series. For example, The Princess in Black and the Mermaid Princess by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, in which the Princess in Black and her friends are cruising in the royal boat when a real, live mermaid princess (Princess Posy) crashes the party. Princess Posy is seeking help protecting her sea goats from being eaten by a kraken, but the princesses aren’t great at fighting underwater, so it may be up to Princess Posy to save the day … and the goats.
The fourth book in Fairy Mom and Me: Fairy Mermaid Magic by Sophie Kinsella sees Ella, who has always dreamed of becoming a fairy like her mom someday, wish for a spell to turn into a mermaid, too! Mom and daughter swim with the mermaids soon enough in this light adventure.
The mermaids in Pacey Packer, Unicorn Tracker: Mermaids vs Unicorns by J. C. Phillipps are not so magical. In fact, they’re kind of mean! But unfortunately Pacey and her grumpy unicorn pal Slasher will have to enter the underwater world of the malicious mermaids in this graphic novel to retrieve a lost Alpha Unicorn horn and try their best not to get into any scrapes!
And in the third installment of Natasha Deen and Lissy Marlin’s Spooky Sleuths: Don’t Go Near the Water, Asim and Rokshar go on a nautical field trip to the Salish Sea. There they discover the fairmaids, mermaids from Guyanese folklore, may be alive and well under the water.
We just recommended Natasha Bowen’s Skin of the Sea in an earlier Tundra Telegram, but if you’re talking about mermaids, you can’t ignore this incredible YA adventure featuring Simi, a Mami Wata who collects the souls of those who die at sea and blesses their journeys back home. When Simi defies her calling and saves a human boy thrown overboard, things get hairy. (If there’s one thing I’ve learned about mermaids from books and movies, it’s that they don’t like being told what to do.) And in the sequel Soul of the Deep, Simi realizes the true cost of her actions, as demons begin to reappear in the water and threaten the world’s end.
Not to be confused with the Briony May Smith picture book, the YA novel Mermaid Moon by Susann Cokal follows Sanna, a half-mermaid who leaves the sea in search of her surface-breathing mother who has been cursed to forget all about her.
And Maggie Tokuda-Hall, who has been fighting book bans across North America of late, wrote a rollicking YA adventure entitled The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea full of pirates, colonialism, and – yes – those mythical mermaids … or at least their blood. (It’s a long story.) This fall, look for the follow-up, The Siren, the Song, and the Spy, in which the Pirate Supreme and their resistance fighters continue their battle against the empire – an empire that expands through profits made from the hunting of mermaids for their blood. (Well, maybe it wasn’t that long a story.)