CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 31. . . .April 17, 2015
Secrets Beneath the Sea. (Mermaid Kingdom, Book 1).
Janet Gurtler. Illustrated by Katie Wood.
North Mankato, MN: Capstone Young Readers, 2015.
284 pp., hardcover, $14.95.
Grades 2-5 / Ages 7-10.
Review by Ruth Scales McMahon.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
Boom! Bang! Bang!
Cora and I both turned when we heard the sudden noises outside of Walrus Waterpark.
“They’re starting to set up!” I said.
The selection ceremony was later that day and there was a flurry of activity. Mermen swam by, carrying colorful flags and tables. A group of mermaids followed carrying colorful sea glass jewels and huge flower decorations.
“What time does the ceremony begin?” Cora asked?
“At dusk.” It was only a few hours away.
“Let’s take Jewel home,” Cora said. “We have work to do. We’ll go to your cave so that I can comb out your hair and shine up your tails.” Cora got up from the bench and began to swim.
I clapped my hands. Cora would make me look extra pretty.
“What seashell top are you going to wear?” she asked as I hurried along behind her. “Something green?” she said before I could answer.
“Yes! Green!” I agreed excitedly.
“The green will contrast nicely with the golden flecks in your tail. I’ll rub your tail with fish oil to make it extra rainbow bright.”
Like most mermaids, my tail was a mix of colors. Cora’s spectacular single-shade purple tail was the envy of all Neptunia. I’d always wanted a single-shade tail, but Cora always said she wished for a tail more like mine.
This tale (pun intended) is set in Neptunia, land of the merpeople. Their world is underwater and makes use of many underwater items, such as conch shell bowls, cave dwellings and jelly fish lanterns, but the merfolk are also equipped with items one would associate with living on land, things such as cell phones, swing sets, and hair brushes.
The story about three mermaids is divided into three sections. Each of the three sections is told in the first person from the point of view of a different mermaid: first section Shyanna Angler, second, the new kid on the block, Rachel Merlin, and the third, Cora Bass. (It is probably not necessary to point out the play on words used in the mermaids’ names.) There is not much character development in this book and not much to distinguish one narrator from another. But the plot does move things along at a good, albeit predictable, pace.
Shyanna, supported by her best friend Cora, wants to enter a singing contest to try and help her mother over the death of Shayana’s father who had been an avid singer, himself. When her mother sets up singing lessons to help Shyanna with a difficult section of her piece, Shyanna realizes the new mermaid, Rachel, who has a beautiful singing voice, is the daughter of the new voice teacher. Shyanna feigns illness so she does not have to sing in Rachel’s home. After a few twists and turns of the plot, the three girls become steadfast friends and work together as a group and also support each other’s endeavours in order to outshine the antagonist, Regina.
Some other important pieces of the plot include Rachel’s mother being human, which makes Rachel half-human and able to walk on land before her 13th birthday, the time when all other mermaids get their legs. Rachel has a human friend Owen who is granted temporary merman status to visit Rachel and support the mermaids in their endeavours. Shyanna encounters a shark and thereby learns of Rachel’s half-mermaid, half-human status. Cora must take care of her younger sisters much of the time, leaving little time for her to collaborate with her friends. The mermaids become favourites of the court and are granted an interview with the Queen.
The writing is clean and simple, with short sentences and lots of dialogue, making this a good title for girls developing their decoding skills. Mermaids are the domain of young girls who will be the only audience for this title. The mix of fantasy, realism and ‘bling’ will appeal to audiences who enjoyed books like the “Rainbow Fairy” books, the Disney version of The Little Mermaid and the “Magic Ballerina” series. In spite of the frequent, eye-catching, Disney-esque, “My Little Pony” ™ coloured illustrations, at 284 pages, it will take some stick-to-it-ness on the part of a young reader.
For those who get caught in the net of this story, the first in a proposed series, it will make future reading choices easy.
The age-appropriate, direct writing style and the subject matter make this a solid title for those who have the money and are looking for additional titles to entertain girls ages 7 to 10.
Ruth Scales McMahon, who has two teenaged daughters, is a professional librarian working in a Middle School library.
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