Thursday, July 27, 2006


Back to the beach! Today let's celebrate the not-so-chicken of the sea: mermaids!

If you have real sand to play with, half bury the children and let them form fishtails from the waist down; let them decorate in patterns using shells and stones. If you happen to be on an imaginary beach, from the waist down, wrap the child's legs loosely in blue or green cellophane (Saran Wrap comes in pretty colors these days). Once the form is made, if you are generous enough with the cellophane,the child should be able to slip in and out of their "tails." Fashion fins at the bottom out of a fan, a plastic plate or more cellophane. Let thechildren decorate the tail by attaching seaworthy decorations, like strings of deep-sea pearls, glitter-covered shells and leafy seaweed.

Are mermaids extinct? They are definitely at least endangered in the world of picture books and folklore collections. My own favorite mermaid story is the unusual japanese legend "The Kingdom Under the Sea" retold in MAGICAL TALES FROM MANY LANDS by Margaret Mayo, illustrated by Jane Ray (Dutton), which is crazily out of print, as is Mary Pope Osbourne's MERMAID TALES FROM AROUND THE WORLD illustrated by Troy Howell (Scholastic), Kate Spohn's glittery THE MERMAIDS' LULLABY(Random House), the rare mer-man story NICHOLAS PIPE by Robert D. San Souci, illustrated by David Shannon (Dial), THE MERMAID OF CAFUR by Evelyn Foster, ilustrated by Olwyn Whelan (Barefoot) and Shirley Climo's TREASURY OF MERMAIDS, luminously illustrated by Jean and Mou-Sien Tseng. All out of print! Isn't that fishy? Luckily, all good mermaids carry library cards, and hard-core collectors can get copies at AmazonZshops.

For something meatier (and, uh, in print), try the multicultural mermaid story
SUKEY AND THE MERMAID by Robert D. San Souci, illustrated by Brian Pinkney (Simon and Schuster). And yes, yes, you can of course read Hans
Andersen's sorrowful saga of THE LITTLE MERMAID, (just get a beautiful version like Lizbeth Zwerger's; please avoid the Disney version, which I always felt made her look like such a little sea-hussy instead of the complicated young woman that she was).

Your intermediate mer-children may enjoy some time to loll about in their tails and dipping into chapter books that all feature half-fish, such as the following:
ISLAND OF THE AUNTS by Eva Ibbotson (Penguin)(9 and up)
THE TALE OF EMILY WINDSNAP by Liz Kessler (Candlewick)(8 and up)
THE FISH IN ROOM 11 by Heather Dyer (Scholastic) (8 and up) (A nice modern fish tale in an apartment building that will appeal to boys as well)
THE FOLK KEEPER by Franny Billingsley (Simon and Schuster) (All right, the main character is more like a Selkie, but that's close, right?) (11 and up)
THE SEARCH FOR DELICIOUS by Natalie Babbitt (Farrar Straus Giroux) (9 and up, but you really must read this one aloud to your whole family!)
THE ANIMAL FAMILY by Randall Jarrell, illustrated by Maurice Sendak (Harper) (10 and up; I read this haunting love story between a hunter, a mermaid and a bear when I was a child, and it has stayed with me my whole life. Luckily, this is one mermaid story that stayed in print.)
And, perfect timing, MERMAID SUMMER by Mollie Hunter (Harper) (10 and up, featuring one mighty fresh half-fish).

Links are provided for informational use. When buying new books, don't forget to support your local independent bookseller.

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