Mermaid Reads

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Mermaid Reads

Splash into underwater fantasy

Summertime always gets me dreaming about mermaids. They’ve swum through my imagination since I was a kid, coming to the surface (pun slightly intended) every time I stand on the beach, watching waves crash and hoping to spot a long, finned tail. Or even when I’m at the pool, and the trick of the light glinting off the too-blue waters maybe tricks me into seeing something I wish was there.

Short of spotting one sunning on the store, a good book about mermaids is the best antidote for mermaid -fever.  I’ve read countless books about them over the years - pictures books, illustrated folktales, chapter books for both kids and adults. Below are some of what I think are the very best.

Mermaid Tales from Around the World by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Troy Howell. As the title suggests, this book features a sampling of mermaids folktales from different cultures, retold by the author of the popular The Magic Tree House series and illustrated by the artist of the Redwall books. Not all of the fantastic creatures of these stories are called “mermaids”, but the concept of a civilization of people living under the sea has seemed to swum its way into consciousnesses across the globe. Particular favorites in this collection are “The Fish Husband” from Nigeria  and “The Mermaid’s Revenge” from England. 

The Secret History of Mermaids and Creatures of the Deep by Ari Berk. From the publisher that brought you Dragonology, Wizardology, and Monsterology comes a guidebook on mermaids. Somewhere between an Eyewitness-style book and a naturalist’s guide, The Secret History of Mermaids offers condensed folkloric history on mer-people complete with fantastic, detailed illustrations. 

The Little Mermaid illustrated by Charles Santore. This is my favorite adaptation of the original “Little Mermaid” story by Hans Christian Anderson. Anderson’s text is the same, but Charles Santore’s detailed, vividly colored painted illustrations give the story the theatrical presence it deserves. Every spread in this book is a masterpiece in its own right, and offer the reader a fully immersive experience into Anderson’s world of underwater kingdoms, sea witches, and unrequited love.

The Mermaid and the Shoe by K.G. Campbell. If the ending of The Little Mermaid is too glum for you (is it a “spoiler alert” if the story’s been in print for almost 180 years?), The Mermaid and the Shoe offers a different take on the story of a youngest mer-princess who doesn’t quite fit in with her royal family. Each one of Minnow’s sister is good at something. Minnow, however, isn’t good at anything… or so she thinks. When she makes a strange discovery, that discovery leads to another discovery, and that discovery - well, you’ll have to read to find out.

Aquamarine by Alice Hoffman. Segueing out of picture books and into middle grade, Aquamarine is a quiet work of enchantment perfect for summer reading. Best friends Claire and Hailey feel like they are in for a bittersweet summer, for two reasons: at the end of it, their favorite summer oasis, Capri Beach Club, will be closing down and (even worse) Claire and her family will be moving.

Then one blistering hot day in August, they make an incredible discovery at the bottom of the club’s pool: a mermaid. Her name is Aquamarine and she’s feistier than she looks. She’s also in love with the lifeguard, Raymond. Can Claire and Hailey help Aquamarine get to know Raymond - before she shrivels up from being away from the ocean too long?

Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan. Now we’re in YA territory. There are a number of young adult series out there (Forgive My Fin, Wake, etc.) that are popular with teenaged mermaid fans, but my favorites are a little further off the beaten path.  On Rollrock Island, there are no human women. Only selkies - women who emerge from seal skins, beautiful as they are otherworldly with long dark hair and large black eyes. The local witch, Misskaella, will draw one out for an eager bachelor...if he’s willing to pay the price.

A heavily atmospheric story, told from multiple perspectives over the course of several generations. 

Undertow by Michael Buckley. In the words of Monty Python: “And now, for something completely different!” No surprise that the author of Sisters Grimm has his own spin on the mythical persona of the mermaid. Coney Island has been overrun with “illegal aliens” - but they’re not from outer space or another country. They’re from under the sea, and no one knows why they’re suddenly camped out on the shore like refugees. The government has no idea what to do with them, and tensions are high between the humans and these mer-people who identify themselves only as “the Alpha”.

When the government dictates that Alpha children must now attend public school alongside the kids of Coney Island, people get violent. Not that it’s necessarily wise to get violent against beings with supernatural strength.  16-year-old Lyric Walker has more of an open mind - some might say too much, as she starts to become friendly with the stoic Alpha Prince, Fathom. Through her alliance with Fathom, can Lyric unite both people and Alpha against a huge threat to both civilizations?

Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama. Again: not your typical mermaid story. Syrenka is a mermaid, thousand of years old, beautiful as she is deadly. When she falls in love, the outcomes are usually disastrous. Right when she thinks she’s destined for a happily ever after, married to a human man she loves, the unthinkable things happen.

A hundred-and-forty years later, 17-year-old Hester is convinced that if she were to peruse romance, it would also end in disaster. That’s how it has been for every woman in her family - her mother, her grandmother, her great-grandmother. Shortly after they give birth to their first child, they die. Why should it be any different for her?

A series of supernatural events causes Hester to investigate her family history. Could her family be under a curse? And if so, how can she break it? Mythic sealore meets a ghost story in this fast-paced, yet gracefully-written YA novel.