Book review: Fish Girl, by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by David Wiesner

Napoli, Donna Jo. Fish Girl. Illus. by David Wiesner. Clarion Books, 2017. $17.99. 186p. ISBN 978-0-547-48393-1. Ages 10-16. P8Q9

Imagine an illustrator with three Caldecott medals and three Caldecott honors illustrating his first graphic novel, and you will have this exciting, adaptation of Anderson’s ”The Little Mermaid,” this one set in a seaside village aquarium. Suspicions arise when the “mermaid” can breathe outside water—although she cannot talk—and her growing realization that “Neptune” is actually manipulating the waves through a remote control. Glorious full-page watercolors combine with panels as the girl sheds her tail and teaches herself to walk at night when her master cannot see her. Visuals dominate the book telling about the “mermaid’s” secret, growing friendship with a visitor to the exhibit leading to the discoveries that Neptune has actually captured her from an island with false stories about fishermen cutting her up if she is seen.

Verdict: The different dimensions of this tale beautifully show a sinister background with escape from a violent storm while showing friendship, both sea creatures and human, that can save the girl’s life and her strength and bravery leading to her escape. Girls may identify with having their self-esteem sliced away through the need of others to control them. Both the theme and the artwork make this book worth several readings.

April 2017 review by Nel Ward.

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