Of Mermaids and Purrmaids

Kenny Brechner -- May 11th, 2017

As you may know this week all five of us ShelfTalkers have been writing about books we’ve read for Gene Luen Yang’s Reading Without Walls Challenge. Meghan had put forward the idea and we were all excited to read something on what would be, for us personally, a road even less traveled than the one at Frost’s intersection in the woods.

The challenge asks us to read books with which we have at least one of the following relationships to.

I was interested in reading books in an area that met all three criteria for me and which represented a true gap in my reading and settled upon a genre, early chapter books written specifically for girls, which was an undeniable personal weak point. I do have go-to books there like Dory Fantasmagory, The Princess in Black, and Utterly Me Clarice Bean, but these titles are singular and exceptional. The vast rank and file world ruled by mermaids, pet clubs, rainbow fairies, magical animals and princesses I have left unsampled.

I chose two books for the challenge. The first was Purrmaids Book One, the Scaredy Cat, by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, and the second was Third Grade Mermaid by Peter Raymondo. These books clearly met all the challenge standards. As a mostly bald 55-year-old male I do not resemble either a young cat mermaid, or an eight-year-old mermaid, nor do I know much about either of their personal lives
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The one thing I had going for me with mermaids is that I am a lifelong swimmer, and I knew from my competitive swimming days that everyone gets one false start per race. It turned out that I needed one. Purrmaids Book One, The Scaredy Cat  soundly defeated my efforts to read it. It was an abject failure on my part, swift and authoritative. I didn’t get past the fourth page reading consecutively. From the opening line, “It was a paw-sitively beautiful morning in Kittentail Cove,” my fears of finding bad puns and sparkly jewelry were all too well realized. I tried hard to give it a go but flipping desperately through the pages I could find nowhere to get any traction. It felt pawful to have failed so dramatically but, like a drowning sailor reaching for the proffered fin of a helpful dolphin, I switched my efforts to Third Grade Mermaid.

At once I found myself not only able to swim again, but swimming in charming and bountiful waters. You see young Cora, the third grade mermaid, has something she wants very badly. She wants to become a member of the glamorous Singing Sirens, but her poor grade in spelling threatens to keep her off the team. It turns out that the famous Shimmermore Sisters, Queens of the Singing Sirens, have a dark, environmentally unfriendly secret to their shimmering, and Cora, with some help from two good friends and her clever, low-key, but supportive mom, comes around to see what really counts, learning to love writing, valuing real friends, overcoming obstacles through hard work, and being true to herself.

I must say that Third Grade Mermaid is a completely delightful book; its appealing values and important life lessons are gently and effectively conveyed with a warm, light touch. Cora is at once both likeable and someone children can relate to for her exuberance, impatience, and headstrong qualities. Funny and heartwarming, this is a mermaid chapter book I can stand behind 100%. Best of all, my reading experience embodied the challenge. For all that I thought these two books were in the same genre and would turn out to have a lot in common, their similarities were totally superficial. Thank you, Reading Without Borders Challenge!

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