When you stand on the shores of a vast body of water, you can never be sure what resides beneath the surface. Scientists, through research, have given us many answers, but mysteries remain. More than 180 years ago an author used the ocean as the setting for one of his more widely read fairy tales. Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid is one of those stories you never forget reading for the first time.
Highly acclaimed and beloved author illustrator Jerry Pinkney has adapted the story for new generations of readers. His illustrations are as lush and eloquent as the ocean in all its glory. The Little Mermaid (Little, Brown and Company, November 3, 2020) written and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney is remarkable in every aspect.
Far out in the ocean and miles below the surface, two
realms sat divided by sea mountains.
On one side of the mountains evil lurked. It was the home of the Sea Witch, known for her selfishness and hunger for power. On the other side of the mountains was the realm of the mighty Sea King. There he and his four daughters resided. The daughters were warned to never enter the Sea Witch's domain.
Of the four daughters, Melody, had a magnificent voice and a curious spirit. She was not content with her expected behaviors. She told stories about the objects from above, drifting down into their watery world. Her sisters did not understand her fascination. One day when Melody's guardian, an elder sea turtle, rose to the surface for air, she followed.
Breaking through the waves, she gasped at the sight of flying fish, whales leaping above the water, and the warm ball in the sky, the sun. What astonished her the most was a girl walking on
two sticklike legs
along the sandy beach. Melody started to sing, and the girl turned to watch her and waved.
Urged back into the sea by her guardian, Melody knew she could not walk upon the sand. She knew the girl could never come down into the ocean. At that moment, a sea snake slithered near her and lured her with promises to the forbidden darkness on the other side of the mountains. There the Sea Witch proposed a bargain. It terrified Melody, but she sang into the shell offered to her, giving the wicked being her enchanting voice. Swimming to the surface, she looked around marveling at the sights and drank the Sea Witch's potion.
The girl on the beach, Zion, and Melody spent the entire day together until near dusk. In response to a question, Melody cleverly explained how she arrived on land. Zion decided to give her a gift, too. After a profound comment by Zion, the course of events changed dramatically. The bonds of friendship once formed cannot be broken by place or time. Deep within us, a fight for right and light will give us the strength we need.
With each reading of this singular adaption of The Little Mermaid by master storyteller Jerry Pinkney, you'll find the words wrapping around you like swirls of water when you swim. His choice of words is extraordinary, painting pictures as vivid as his artwork. Dialogue is a part of the narrative bringing intimacy to many pivotal portions of the tale. Here is a passage.
As her scales fell away, Melody found it more difficult to swim
as she drifted toward the shore. At last she felt fine sand against
her skin and winced as a sharp shell cut into her foot. She was just
starting to stand on wobbly legs when she heard a girl's voice.
"Hello!" said the smiling stranger. "It's you, isn't it? From out
in the ocean?" The girl reached with a steadying hand. "I'm Zion.
What's your name?"
Melody tried to answer, but no sound left her lips. Instead,
she smiled back, shivering as the breeze whipped through the
seaweed clinging to her body.
When you open the dust jacket, the scene shown on the front, right, extends to the flap edges on the right and on the far left of the back. Over the spine and on the left, Melody's tail bends and moves in the water with the tips of the end breaking the surface in bubbling splashes. Three seagulls, on the back, fly over wise words from the narrative.
"You should never give up
your voice . . .
On the right flap two smaller fish seem to dance near Melody. The hues of green and blue with the radiant yellow of the sky complement the light in Melody's face and the sparkle of her attire and the water around her.
On the book case, it's as if we are looking down on the surface of the ocean. We are looking at the backs of Melody and her guardian, the old sea turtle. They are swimming in a marbleized array of blues and greens.
On the opening endpapers is a depiction of the Sea King's realm, his castle of coral, lighting the surrounding area of ocean animal and plant life. With a page turn, on the left mermaids and merman dance in a spin of blue and fish. Opposite, on the title page, Melody and her guardian swim to the right. On the closing endpapers are the dedication and information about the book. The scene is from land looking across the water, waves crashing against the shore as the sun sets. A lighthouse sits on a cliff on the far-left side. There are two pairs of elements which signify the friendship of the girls and gifts given. Already, as readers, we are enveloped in the fine details Jerry Pinkney includes in this beautiful book.
Jerry Pinkney's illustrations rendered
using pencil and watercolor on Arches cold-pressed paper
are mesmerizing and opulent. Each double-page picture takes us deeply into the story. We become a party of Melody's journey in finding her purpose, and of her family recognizing that purpose.
To assist in pacing there are four single-page illustrations, although two of them are joined by identical elements. Perspectives shift flawlessly to accentuate portions of the story. You can't help but pause to enjoy the illustrations which enriches the text. This is a tale to savor.
One of my many, many favorite images is that which enhances the portion of text quoted above. On the left side, the pearly full moon is setting among lingering clouds. A wash of the ocean moves toward shore as a single seagull watches the two girls on the right. Melody, not sure of her new legs, is wrapped in Zion's shawl. On her head is a crown of sea plants. Seaweed drapes over her body. In her left hand she holds the doll she found in the ocean. Zion reaches out to help Melody tucking the fabric around her body. She is wearing a brightly colored hat and scarf, a striped shirt, denim vest and short skirt. The two new friends stand on the sandy beach as waves wash around their feet.
The adaptation of The Little Mermaid written and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney is one of the finest I have ever read. On a lovely double-page visual, Jerry Pinkney includes an author's note speaking about his motivation for creating this book. This illustration is a wordless continuation of the story before the closing endpapers. (Truthfully, I love this picture, too.) I can't imagine a collection, personal or professional, without a copy of this book.
To learn more about Jerry Pinkney and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website. There is more about Jerry Pinkney in a page at the Norman Rockwell Museum website. In a guest post at School Library Journal, Jerry Pinkney speaks about this book. Here is a link to the book launch at Books of Wonder.