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The Merbaby by Teresa Bateman
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The Merbaby

by Teresa Bateman

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Mermaids have never failed to capture my imagination. Especially when I was very young I found them to be exciting and romantic and magical. So having grown into a proper obsessive/compulsive collector I have acquired many books on the subject over the years and I think none has such lovely illustrations as this one. I wish the story was as good.

The publishers suggest that this book is intended for the 4-8 year old readership but I think 6 to 11 is probably more like it. The writing of Teresa Bateman was too lackluster and moody to capture and keep the interest of the six and seven year old girls to whom I read this but the pictures seemed to entertain them quite a bit. They wanted to take the book to their own room to look at them after we had finished reading it so I know they were ensorceled by the mermaid mystique. They never asked to have it read to them again but they looked at the pictures and even got into trying to draw their own pictures of mermaids. The boys to whom I read this book, for whatever reason, did not seem as smitten.

I think the problem with the writing is that it is too matter of fact and lacks the poetry and romance that the subject demands. The author relied too heavily on the illustrator to create the magic.

Ahead, a tiny island of solitary rocks jutted upward. A beautiful figure sat there, combing her hair with a fish's skeleton__singing them to their doom.

I think we need adjectives that are more descriptive than "tiny" and "beautiful" and nouns more specific than "figure" but this book never stretches to anything like verbal artistry. Fortunately, the artist Patience Brewster gave us everything we could wish for visually. The large double spread illustrations have an atmospheric sea-green wash and the mermaids and mermen satisfy the imagination with their flowing hair and sinuous tails, ropes of pearls and bracelets of plundered shipwreck gold and jewels. The amount of text is well balanced with the amount of illustration and therefore it is not hard for even very young children to sit still during the reading of this story.

In the story two fisherman brothers, one an idealistic dreamer and the other a materialistic schemer accidentally pull up a baby mermaid in their nets along with their catch of fish. Both brothers see dollar signs, one hoping for riches and fame, the other wishing for a carefree life of exploration and discovery away from his controlling brother. They decide to sell her as a curiosity and make their fortune. Eventually the dreamy brother falls in love with the adorable merbaby and his conscience won't let him sell her into a miserable life on land. What happens as a result will be left for you to discover.

The story also reveals an age old enmity between the sea folk and the land folk because of the way land folk plunder and abuse the gifts of the sea. It has a good message about ecology and respect for other beings rather than dominance and destruction but it delivers that message in kind of a whiny way. The problem is that there is too much negativity for this to be a really fun children's book. The brothers don't get along. The merfolk are bitter at first. And then there is the little matter of kidnapping! The poor little baby mermaid has to live in a tight little basin. Still, I don't want to be too hard on the book. It has to be moody by definition because the sea is moody and because the mythos of mermaids does have dark aspects. Even a children's tale of merfolk should have some shadowy qualities.

I quite like this book on the strength of the artwork alone. I can never get enough of the tales of the merfolk and I think you will find this true of anyone old or young who has once been beguiled by them. If you know such a child don't hesitate to share this book with them. ( )
  Treeseed | Mar 4, 2008 |
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When he and his brother Josh find a mer-baby caught in their fishing net, Tarron, rejecting his brother's plan to sell the baby and make a profit, discovers that there are greater treasures than gold.

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