CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 4 . . . . October 13, 2006
Mairi has a problem. She is on vacation at the seashore, but she still has not learned how to swim! Robbie, her show-off brother, swims like a fish and laughs at her struggle to learn how to swim. Her parents are very encouraging and supportive, but Mairi still cannot swim.
As she is collecting crabs in the rock pools on the beach, Mairi finds a huge brown crab clutching a tiny mermaid. Fearless Mairi frees the mermaid, but the tiny creature needs her help to get back to the big cave under a rock in the ocean where her family lives. Mairi promises to take her out as far as she can walk, but the waves lift Mairi off her feet, and, before she knows it, Mairi is kicking and splashing in the water. Mairi is swimming with the little mermaid!
When they reach the mermaid’s rock, the sea is suddenly full of mermaids and mermen who are very grateful to Mairi for saving the little mermaid. They all want to help her learn to swim, and, in no time, she has learned the doggy paddle, the breaststroke, the crawl, the backstroke and the butterfly stroke. She even learns to swim underwater. Mairi can swim! When her family sees her swimming, they are thrilled and proud of her. Mairi tells them, “It’s easy. I just pretended I was a mermaid.”
Michael Morpurgo has written a wonderful summer tale of learning to swim. Aimed at the beginning reader, this story addresses the fears of water and swimming which plague many young readers. The characterization of Mairi is well done. She is a brave young girl who is not afraid of the water or of water creatures such as crabs. She is also a very helpful little girl who does not hesitate to help a tiny creature in need. Her good nature is rewarded when the mermaid’s family helps her to learn to swim. The characterization of her older brother, Robbie, is also very believable. He is a show-off who doesn’t take his little sister’s struggle with swimming seriously. He is the typical mean older brother! Her parents are portrayed as caring and supportive.
The book is written in paragraph form with conversation interspersed in the text. One aspect which was challenging was the fact that the author (or designer) did not indent his paragraphs. The illustrations added a great deal of value to the story. We not only see what the characters look like, but we also see what is going on in the storyline as well. The speech bubbles tell us a great deal about the plot and the characters themselves. Mairi’s struggles with swimming are illustrated by her comment, “I’m sinking again,” on the very first page of text. The comments of the various sea creatures are also amusing for the reader. The illustrations are bright, colourful, detailed and visually appealing. The huge crab is vicious-looking, and the little mermaid is cute and adorable. How could you refuse to help such a creature?
Young readers will appreciate the realistic situation of learning how to swim portrayed in this book, but they will also appreciate the fantastic story of a little mermaid. The story of the tiny sea creature will not be totally unfamiliar to a generation raised on the Disney film The Little Mermaid. The problem of learning how to swim at this early age is a relevant one both for boys and girls.
Myra Junyk, the former Program Co-ordinator of Language Arts and Library Services at the Toronto Catholic District School Board, is currently working as a Literacy Advocate and author.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.