I am so excited to introduce you to this marvelous new picture book written by a dear and talented friend of mine. At it’s heart, The Melancholic Mermaid is about two children who feel outcast due to physical abnormalities coming to terms with themselves through an unlikely and touching friendship. It is also funny, magical, and marks the arrival of an exciting new voice in Canadian picturebooks, Kallie George.
Maude is a merbaby born with two tails. Even though her parents insist this is a blessing, she feels quite the opposite. Tony is a boy with webbed hands. Fate brings them together at a cruel circus, where Tony is forced to clean Maude’s tank and realizes that those bubbles rising from her face are tears. Together, the two of them make a brave dash for the ocean, in search of their own personal brand of happily ever after.
It is clear that George is a student of fairytale masters such as Hans Christian Anderson and Oscar Wilde. The narrative style and structure of her story, which is divided into sections with such lovely titles as “The Tears of Bubbles and How They Began,” are very traditional. What makes this tale contemporary is the inclusion of loving adults, in the form of Maude’s devoted parents. Generally good parenting is hard to come by in fairytales, a fact which is brilliantly parodied in the title of a recent collection of fairytales for adults, My Mother She Ate me, My Father He Killed Me. There is also a happy ending for both Maude and Tony, though not a romantic one, and the absense of a horrible bloody death, something that can not be said about the Grimm’s or Anderson’s fairytales.
George’s gift is her imagination, which is evidenced not only by her concepts and storytelling, but by her language. It is fresh and charming, though never cutesy. She has the ability to surprise and delight the reader with unexpected turns of phrase. This makes it an excellent read aloud. Lucky for George, Abigail Halpin’s illustration are well suited to her story; both dreamy and understated, which allows the text to shine.
There has been a lot of debate lately regarding whether or not picture books are dying out. According to articles like this one, parents are pushing their children to read novels at a younger age, therefore shrinking the already small window of time that children enjoy picture books. This saddens me. Picture books are lovingly crafted and mutli-layered works of art that celebrate story, language, art, and design. Sharing a picture book with a child is one of the things an e-reader will never be able to simulate. I don’t understand why learning to read at an earlier age and books with pictures are suddenly mutually exclusive, but perhaps the stop-gap will be filled by well-crafted longer format picturebooks like The Melancholic Mermaid.
Having known and worked with Kallie for a number of years I could not be more proud. This is truly a book to treasure, and I know many young people (and their parents!) who will not only enjoy The Melancholic Mermaid, but beg for multiple readings.
The Melancholic Mermaid is available now from Simply Read Books.