________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 20 . . . . May 30, 2008

cover Thora and the Green Sea-Unicorn: Another Half-Mermaid Tale.

Gillian Johnson.
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins, 2007.
267 pp., pbk., $15.99.
ISBN 978-00-0-639388-7.

Subject Headings:
Mermaids-Juvenile fiction.
Theft-Juvenile fiction.
Adventure stories.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Stacie Edgar.

*** /4


Shirley was a stunning little sea-unicorn, half the length of a baby’s arm and twice as strong. She had a mane of sparkling coral threads, a flexible, curly tail, and a tubby little sea-horse belly. Using her wings and tail for propulsion, and her silver horn and long, tubular snout to steer, Shirley moved through the water with the ease and grace of an aquatic flying machine.

Now, unicorns are rare enough, but a sea-unicorn is harder to find than a Bunyip in a billabong. And each has its unique features. In Shirley’s case, there were three things that set her apart from all other living creatures…

First, her color, Green…

Second, she left a sparkly silver trail behind her when she swam…

And finally, her horn. It was a slightly knobbly appendage with a surprisingly sharp tip.


Thora and the Green Sea-Unicorn continues where Thora: A Half-Mermaid Tale left off, with Thora and her companions finally reaching London after travelling the world in their houseboat, the Loki. The scene is set in the first chapter — Pamela P. Poutine, “petty thief, smuggler of precious sea creatures, and former B-grade movie star” from high in her penthouse suite, spies Shirley through her opera glasses and resolves to capture the innocent creature. Pamela intends to deliver the small sea-unicorn to Mr. Oto, a wealthy Japanese dealer, who will give her top price for such a rarity. The thought of a reward drives Pamela to fervently hunt down Shirley in hopes that she can retire from the smuggling life.  

     The whimsical sketches before the main text of the book introduce the reader to Thora, her mermaid mother Halla, and her “guardian-angle” Mr. Walters. Thora is a half-mermaid child whose mother lives in the sea and whose father had abandoned her as a baby. Mr. Walters, a full human, provides them with food and shelter, and they, in turn, provide him with a family. 

     The adventure really begins when Pamela’s many failed attempts to capture the sea-unicorn force her to send her assistant, Miss Fishlock, to retrieve the tiny treasure. However, chaos ensues, and she disappears with Shirley and the Loki, leaving the mermaid and human trio and their pet peacock, Cosmo, homeless and heartbroken for their beloved Shirley. As they try to regain their existence, Thora and Mr. Walters read in a newspaper article that Mr. Walters’s long-time friend has died. Mr. Walters contacts his godson, Jerome Bidet, and Jerome invites the family to come and stay at his late father’s expansive estate outside London. Jerome sends his driver, Milton, to the city to fetch the destitute family and deliver them safely to the countryside. There they meet the rest of his family, his wife Blandina and daughter Louella.

     After the death of Mr. Walters’ longtime friend, Lionel Bidet, his family begins to consider what to do with the estate he left behind. Blandina and millionaire Ricardo le Drone swear that Snug’s dying wish was to build croquet courts. Instead, after much fuss, Thora and Louella convince everyone involved to create a water park where visitors can view the estate and go down in the antique bathysphere to see a real live mermaid — Halla, of course. Visitors will also be able to partake in “two giant waterslides, five fountains, a water-pistol range, and a swimming area for snorkeling and scuba diving.” In the first book, Thora had discovered that one of the three sisters who owned and ran the local movie theatre in the small town of Grimli is her grandmother — her father’s mother. She stays in contact throughout the first and second book by letter. The author includes the letters to Dottie Grandmother, allowing the reader to gain an overview of the fast-moving storyline. As she still wears a projectionist’s ring around her neck that was a gift from her past, Thora is driven to also build a movie theatre in Greenwater Park.

     Back in London, Pamela is still urgently trying to find the iridescent sea-creature Shirley and her missing assistant, Miss Fishlock. She reads in the local newspaper that the Greenwater Park is about to open and, through an interview with Louella and Thora, realizes that the half-mermaid and her mother are at the estate. She befriends the journalist covering the story and convinces her to travel to Snugshire. In the end, Miss Fishlock and Shirley also manage to find their way to the water park, Pamela’s true nature is revealed, and the family menagerie of sea creatures and humans are off on another adventure to far flung Tasmania. 

     This is the second “Thora” text for author illustrator Gillian Johnson who grew up in Winnipeg and lives in London and, coincidentally, Tasmania. Many of the places and locations in the text subtly connect to references of Canada and England. Yet, one wonders if a young reader might pick up inferences, such as “It was the kind of car you’d expect to see Barbie drive out of Hamleys toy store on Regent Street” or “It’s like white-river rafting in Jasper National Park!” A sophisticated young reader may be able to handle the short, choppy chapters that flip back and forth between Thora, Halla, and Mr. Walters’ homeless existence and Pamela’s desperate quest to finally be free, until the two worlds converge at the end of the book. Yet, the high vocabulary and fast-paced story line may lose some young readers.

     The watercolour and pencil, black-and-white illustrations support the text and create images for the reader to picture the characters. Periodically throughout the text, the author includes newspaper articles and Thora’s personal letters that seem to connect loose bits of information for the reader.


Stacie Edgar currently teaches in the Winnipeg School Division in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364
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