FILED IN: Book Reviews

Mermaid Queen by Shana Corey

Mermaid QueenMermaid Queen:The Spectacular True Story Of Annette Kellerman, Who Swam Her Way To Fame, Fortune & Swimsuit History!
By Shana Corey; illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham
Scholastic Press; $17.99
48 pp.; ISBN-13: 978-0439698351

Review by Amy Brozio-Andrews

A bright and colorful picture book full of adventure, Shana Corey’s Mermaid Queen chronicles the story of Australian Annette Kellerman, the groundbreaking swimmer and swimsuit innovator whose life was dramatized in the Esther Williams movie The Million Dollar Mermaid (1952).

Australian Annette Kellerman got into swimming as a young girl in the early 1900’s, when a childhood illness left her with braces on her legs. A doctor suggested swimming to strengthen her legs and while Annette’s mom worried that people would talk, her dad was all for it. Turns out that Annette learned how to swim like a fish and loved how the water felt so freeing. She began to win swimming races and use her creativity to develop water ballet and diving routines. As she got older, this spunky young woman believed that everyone could get something out of a good swim and began her personal crusade to encourage swimming, for girls and women in particular.

When she and her father traveled to England, she swam the River Thames to draw attention to her cause, and her attempt to swim the English Channel brought her firmly into the public eye, where people did in fact, talk — they were astounded by her ability and artistry. Her plans to swim in America were briefly detoured by a courtroom visit after getting arrested on a Boston Beach because of her risque bathing suit (while she wore a modified suit similar to men’s styles of the day — think leotard with legs to the knee — women wore special dresses, stockings, hats and shoes). Through it all, Annette Kellerman faced challenge after challenge with good humor and remarkable resilience, becoming known far and wide as the Mermaid Queen. Her advocacy for swimming in general and women’s abilities in particular had long-reaching influence on sports, fashion, and women’s history.

Corey’s book introduces kids to someone just like them, who had a dream and worked for it, sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing but always doing her best and believing in herself. Corey’s use of real quotes in the narrative (annotated in the back of the book) adds realism to the story, and her breezy storytelling style is the perfect match for a free spirit like Annette Kellerman. A brief biography of Annette Kellerman, one that’s more detailed and expands on the narrative of Mermaid Queen is the perfect addition to the story for older readers or parents whose children are interested in learning more about Annette Kellerman and the rest of her life.
Edwin Fotheringham’s innovative illustrations reinforce the aquatic nature of the story at every turn, from placing illustrations inside droplets of water to his use of cool sea blues and greens and beachy sunset oranges and reds.

A great story for family reading, Mermaid Queen is an exciting and inspirational story of a young woman who, with the support of her family, followed her dreams.