Is it a Mermaid?

Is it a Mermaid?
Candy Gourlay and Francesca Chessa
Otter-Barry Books

When is a mermaid not a mermaid? That is the question explored in this enchanting picture book.

Bel and Benji are playing on the beach one morning when they spy something emerging from the sea: Bel wonders what it could be. Benji says it’s a Dugong, which the creature immediately denies, insisting she’s a ‘beautiful mermaid’ and pointing out her tail – a rather large one.

Benji is having none of it even when the Dugong bursts into song – not very tunefully.

Into the ocean plunges the ‘mermaid’ – not very elegantly – intent on demonstrating her graceful swimming, immediately followed by Bel and Benji,

the latter firmly pointing out the Dugongness of the creature’s anatomy and calling her a “SEA COW”.

This results in a tearful Dugong, an apology from Benji and the forging of a new friendship as children and sea creature spend a happy day frolicking in the ocean waves before bidding one another fond farewells.

Beautifully portrayed in richly coloured scenes and told with gentle humour, this slice of tropical life will delight and amuse young listeners – it’s a treat to read aloud.

There is however a serious side to the book: the final page gives factual information about Dugongs explaining how their seagrass habitat is being destroyed, thus placing the creatures on the list of vulnerable species.

Elliot’s Arctic Surprise


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Rosa lost in the Arctic world of the story …

Elliot’s Arctic Surprise
Catherine Barr and Francesca Chessa
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
When a bottle is washed up before the eye’s of young Elliot as he lies at the water’s edge and he discovers a message inside, he knows his beach holiday is about to end: he has something far, far more important to do …

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His preoccupied parents barely acknowledge his “Can I go to the North Pole?” request and Elliot hitches a ride to his destination with a friendly sea captain.
Before long, they discover that they’re not alone: thousands of other tiny little boats have joined them,

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carrying children from all over the world.
The fleet sails past giant icebergs, polar bears and seals before the children hear an alarming roar

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and a sinister sight meets their eyes …
So, with Elliot as their leader, the children confront the man in charge of the rig that’s all set to begin its operation. “This is Father Christmas’s home, … Please don’t spoil it.” Elliot begs.

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And as the oil man ponders on the request, the sea captain reveals his true identity.
Catherine Barr, the story’s author formerly worked at Greenpeace International and her passion for environmental issues is evident herein. However, the fairytale type narrative means that the Arctic cause is delivered gently and appealingly, and is an excellent way to introduce a vital and complex issue to young children. (The final page provides a note from Greenpeace’s executive director about their Arctic campaign.)
Francesca Chessa’s acrylic paintings are arresting and those Arctic scenes, particularly powerful in their impact.
A thought-provoking book that provides something completely different from other seasonal offerings; it’s one that has relevance the whole year round and I particularly like the children’s ‘we can overcome’ spirit.

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