Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Middle Grade Mermaid Stories!

Mermaid stories are insanely popular. Debbie Dadey’s Mermaid Tales series is always out over here; I have early readers and middle graders constantly asking me where they can find more mermaid books, and YA has a whole category of mermaid books. If you’re of a certain age (or your parents are), like me, you remember the movie, Splash, which is getting a reboot with Channing Tatum as a mer-guy now. There’s something fascinating about the world under the sea.

The Little Mermaid, by Metaphrog, (Apr. 2017, Papercutz), $13.99, ISBN: 9781629917399

Award-winning graphic novelists and Eisner Award nominees Metaphrog – aka Sandra Marrs and John Chalmers –  are award-winning graphic novelists who have crafted a graphic novel retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid.  For those of you who only know the Disney version, heads up: this is not that version. There’s no happy singing crab, Bette Midler is not a fabulous underwater witch with killer vocal cords, and the ending is very different than you may expect. The Mermaid – unnamed here – falls in love with a young prince whom she saves from drowning, and makes a bargain with a witch in order to grow legs and be with him, but the price is high.

Metaphrog create beautiful art to tell the mermaid’s tale. With shades of blues and greens, they weave magic, loneliness, and mystery into their story. The waves seem to lap off the cover, beckoning the reader to come in and read their tale. This adaptation beautifully translates this powerful tale. Pair this one with Metaphrog’s graphic adaptation of Anderson’s The Red Shoes and Other Tales.

Fish Girl, by Donna Jo Napoli/Illustrated by David Wiesner, (March 2017, Clarion), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0547483931

Another Little Mermaid retelling, Fish Girl tells a different, slightly darker tale. The Fish Girl is an attraction in a seaside exhibit; the proprietor refers to himself as Neptune, god of the oceans. As the story progresses, it becomes apparent that Neptune isn’t all that he claims to be, and the circumstances under which he keeps Fish Girl in captivity are unsettling, bordering on menacing. A girl visits the exhibit one day and catches a glimpse of the fish girl; the two strike up a secret friendship as Mia – the name Fish Girl’s friend bestows on her – wants more than life in a tank, and begins pushing her boundaries.

This is a more modern update of the classic fairy tale, with unsettling implications. Neptune is not a benevolent sea god; he’s not a loving father figure, and I found myself fighting a panicky feeling – most likely reacting as a parent – because I wanted Mia to get away from him. The story is intriguing, and will draw readers in, keeping them riveted until the last page is turned.

While I normally love David Wiesner’s artwork – Art & Max, Flotsam, Tuesday, you name it – this isn’t his usual artwork, where the colors blend and shade to provide depth and dimension. It’s still beautiful artwork, but it’s more flat here, really letting the story take center stage. His use of sea colors is lovely, and he creates a loving relationship between Mia and her guardian, the octopus.

I’d suggest these for higher middle graders – 5th and 6th graders – because the overall content may be upsetting to younger readers. Would I let my kids read them at that age? Yes, but that’s me. Read these first, and let that be your guide; make sure your younger readers know that these are different ways of telling the Disney story they may be familiar with.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Folklore, myth, and memory: Merrow

merrowMerrow, by Ananda Braxton-Smith, (NOv. 2016, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763679248

Recommended for ages 12+

Twelve year-old Neen Marrey lives with her Aunt Oshag on Carrick Island. Her father drowned and her mother disappeared when she was a baby; now, she and her aunt endure the town gossip – that her mother was a merrow, a mermaid, that returned to the ocean and her father drowned himself trying to reach her. Oshag dismisses the gossip as nonsense, but the myth keeps Neen going; she wants desperately to believe that her mother didn’t just desert her; that maybe even Neen herself has merrow in her, and can reconcile with her mother one day.

Merrow is beautiful and heartbreaking. Braxton-Smith spins a tale that weaves together historical fiction, Celtic folklore, and a coming of age story. Neen and Oshag are both incredibly constructed characters that come alive; characters that you come to ache for. The supporting cast are equally likable and believable, and having such a small group of characters adds to the intimacy of the novel.

This is a gorgeous novel that literary fiction readers, readers of magical realism, realistic fiction, and historical fiction alike will love. Merrow has received four starred reviews: Booklist, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and School Library Journal. Maybe the Printz committee will agree?

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Tween Reads, Uncategorized

Oliver and the Seawigs – Fun, Adventure, and… Seawigs!

Oliver and the SeawigsOliver and the Seawigs, by Philip Reeve/illustrated by Sarah McIntyre (Random House Children’s Books, July 2014). $12.99, ISBN: 9780385387880

Recommended for ages 8-12

I’ve been a fan of Philip Reeve since I read the Larklight series; when I saw his name on the cover of Oliver and the Seawigs, it was a no-brainer for me – I had to read it. And I’m so glad I did!

Oliver Crisp is a young boy whose parents are world explorers. He’s climbed every mountain, waded through rivers, wandered through jungles – all he really wants to do is have a real home, with a real bed, and be a normal kid with normal parents. When his parents finally decide that they’ve seen all there is to see, and head to their family home, Oliver is thrilled. Until his parents spot a cluster of islands right by their home that they swear they’ve never seen before.

Oliver decides to sit this adventure out, enjoying the experiencing of unpacking and settling into his home, but when he discovers that not only have his parents disappeared – the islands have, too! – he sets out to find them and find what happened. On his journey, he meets a nearsighted mermaid, a grumpy albatross, some very sarcastic seaweed, and a living island that he names Cliff. This is a whole new world for Oliver, who learns that home isn’t merely a place, but who you surround yourself with. The story also addresses bullying in a very discreet way, making this a great teaching tool.

Philip Reeve writes great character-driven stories. He has a real talent for bringing unconventional families to life, and he creates fun, new characters, whether it’s a grumpy albatross, a crazy sea monkey army, or a sad, living island. Sarah McIntyre’s fun two-color illustrations enhance the fun of reading the story – I think I need a Sea Monkey plush for my desk at work! – and bring a real sense of life to the characters.

I had a great time with Oliver and the Seawigs, and I think middle graders looking for a fun adventure book will, too. This one publishes next week, so put it on your back-to-school reading lists!