Mermaid

Publisher: Scholastic

Review

Luka loves living by the sea, but neither he nor his brothers have ever learned to swim. On the beach one day, he sees a girl in the sea, gliding through the water as effortlessly a fish, and he longs to join her. Luka watches as she emerges from the sea to meet her dad and then transfer herself into a wheelchair. He quickly introduces himself and the very next day Sylvia helps him start learning to swim.

That night, Luka dreams of magical underwater adventures with his new friend and sees that she has a mermaid's tail. The next morning, still thinking about swimming with Sylvia, he heads wistfully off to school, only to find that there's a surprise waiting for him.

This is the second picture book from television presenter Cerrie Burnell and illustrator Laura Ellen Anderson. Although it features a character who uses a wheelchair, it's in no way an 'issue' book. First and foremost, it is a story about making a new friend. It's also about determination - as Luca is desperate to follow his dream of being able to swim, despite none of his family sharing his interest.

Alongside this sits a gentle message about the disability, but it's a message which avoids many of the potential pitfalls. Yes, Sylvia is inspirational, but only in the sense that she inspires Luka to learn to swim. Is she treated differently because she is disabled? No, Luka hardly notices Sylvia's wheelchair - what is so interesting and captivating about her is her affinity with the water. And the book does not suggest that she has a magical power as 'compensation' for being disabled, but does challenge preconceptions - such as the assumption that someone who is disabled could never swim.

The result is a simple but enchanting and inclusive picture book.

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