Review Blog

Aug 27 2019

The little mermaid by Geraldine McCaughrean

cover image

Illus. by Laura Barrett. Orchard, 2019. ISBN: 9781408357231.
(Age: 7+) Highly recommended. Themes: Fairy tales, Hans Christian Anderson, Mermaids, Cautionary tales. When a little mermaid gives up her tail, voice and her home in the sea because she loves a prince, it is to be hoped that she receives his love in return, after all she saved his life when he was drowning at sea. But no, she cannot tell him, she has given up her voice, and he marries the princess from the country next door. This Hans Christian Anderson tale always intrigued me, and even more so when it was modernised so that true love came out trumps in the end. I preferred the one where she went back to sea a wiser and happier mermaid, although Anderson's tale has a religious ending that surprised me when checking the original story for the review.
This wonderful retelling by McCaughrean comes from the original Anderson fairy tale and will be a pleasant surprise for all readers.
Mermaid Delphine falls for the prince, and despite warnings from her five golden haired sisters, takes the potion from the sea witch who, in exchange, swallows her voice like an oyster. Delphine stays with the prince in his palace, a companion who dances for him but must wash her feet each night to wash off the blood. But the prince does not know that she loves him and marries the princess from another land, and with that the witch's curse says that Delphine's heart must break and she return to the sea as sea foam.
Her sisters sell their hair to the sea witch in return for a knife with which Delphine must kill the prince in order for her to return home, the magic spell broken. But Delphine cannot do this and so jumps into the sea where a greater magic than that of the sea witch restores her to her family.
This beautiful retelling is accompanied by the most engaging of illustrations: against a sea of blue, black silhouettes appear, mermaids and sea creatures wind their way across the pages, the mermaids' hair spilling out behind their tailed bodies, the weeds, small fish and different blues contrasting with the world on land with women in their large ornate dresses, along with castles, horses and the prince.
This would be a wonderful read aloud as well as an engaging series of lessons in comparing fairy tales, or comparing this with the film or asking people to retell the story of The little mermaid before reading one of the versions. And of course there is the statue in Copenhagen to wonder at.
Fran Knight

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