The Mermaid

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
The Mermaid Book Poster Image
Delightful retelling of Goldilocks as undersea mermaid tale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Some info about undersea life and octopuses. Pufferfish can blow themselves up and are spiny. Various fish and shells pictured in very detailed art. Mimics structure of traditional Goldilocks tale, with some of the same language. Some Japanese words.

Positive Messages

You can enjoy traditional tales by playing with them and updating them. Girls (mermaids) can be brave and adventurous. Friends can be loyal. You can give gifts to others, even things that are precious to you.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Kiniro is a strong female role model: curious, adventurous, and unafraid. She's also generous and kind, leaving the baby octopus her beautiful shell tiara. Puffy's a loyal friend, protecting Kiniro when she's in danger.

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Mermaid, by beloved author-illustrator Jan Brett (The Mitten), is a retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears that's set underwater and features a mermaid. Instead of a Goldilocks with blond ringlets, Brett gives us Kiniro, a shimmering mermaid with jet-black hair, a Japanese name, and Asian-inflected features. Three octopuses substitute for the three bears. This redo will especially delight kids who are familiar with the original, and parents might want to pair the two at story time so kids can compare and contrast. The ocean setting and mermaid character make this classic tale magical.

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What's the story?

In THE MERMAID, Kiniro, a mermaid, and her friend Puffy, a pufferfish, enter a charming shell-encrusted home belonging to an octopus family that's just headed out for "a swim before breakfast." Kiniro samples the three bowls of food on the table, the three chairs, and the three beds, each time finding the littlest one "just right." When the octopus family comes home, they find their house disturbed and Kiniro asleep in the littlest bed. The octopuses reach out to grab her, but Puffy puffs himself up to protect his friend. Kiniro escapes, but before she does, she gives the baby octopus a parting gift, her beautiful shell tiara.

Is it any good?

Mermaid lovers aren't the only ones who can rejoice in this underwater take on the classic Goldilocks tale, since there's an ocean of pleasure here for all readers. In The Mermaid, author-illustrator Jan Brett gives us a Goldilocks figure who has golden scales instead of golden tresses. Brett says she was inspired by a trip to Okinawa, and this mermaid is Japanese inflected. Her name is Kiniro, her flowy hair is jet black, and her features have an Asian cast. Brett also drew on her interest in octopuses, substituting three of them for the stock three bears, which gives these intelligent sea creatures a nice showcase, one that's unusual in kids' books. The art is busily detailed with sea life and includes Brett's signature borders, with windows giving us glimpses of action happening elsewhere.

It's great fun to reimagine a classic tale, and it's especially fun for young readers who can get the reference and feel in the know. In this book, one chair's made of coral ("too many bumps"), and another has a seat of seaweed ("too slippery"). As Brett creatively blends mermaids, sea life, Okinawa, and the story of Goldilocks, she gives kids the chance to see an old tale through wondrously new eyes.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how The Mermaid compares with the classic tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. How is this story similar? How is it different?

  • Do you like mermaids? Can you reimagine any other classic tales so that they have mermaid characters?

  • Do you know any other books that feature octopuses? Have you ever seen one in an aquarium or in a video? Do you know anything about them? Why do you think the author chose to use them in the story?

Book details

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For kids who love picture books and fairy tales

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