Our most beloved stories seem to grow each time we tell them, expanding to encompass new ideas we’ve come to treasure as well as familiar elements we hold dear. Jerry Pinkney brings a well-trod tale to the surface and fills it with new life in The Little Mermaid.
Pinkney has been a fixture in children’s literature for more than five decades. His distinctively detailed watercolor illustrations lend a sense of majesty and depth to every book he touches. Many of his acclaimed titles are adaptations of folk and fairy tales, including his Caldecott Medal-winning The Lion and the Mouse and the Caldecott Honor books John Henry (written by Julius Lester) and The Ugly Duckling.
In The Little Mermaid, Pinkney creates a lavish and vibrant world—three worlds, actually. Underwater, the merfolk’s kingdom teems with life, bubbling and busy. Amid cool blues and greens, intriguing ocean creatures, including fish, eels and turtles, fill the pages, hiding in every nook and cranny. Above the surface, waves roll onto a sandy beach under a warm yellow sun as gulls swoop through the air. Finally, deep down below in a skeletal lair, a truly terrifying Sea Witch and hissing serpents are sure to induce shudders.
Though The Little Mermaid would be a success solely on the merits of Pinkney’s illustrations, his writing is equally strong. He employs vivid language that gives the book an unusually elevated, sophisticated tone. There’s a marvelous sense that Pinkney is telling this story exactly the way he would if he could gather us together around a crackling fireplace to trade tales late into the night.
The combination of rich language and lush artwork could overwhelm a less experienced creator, but in Pinkney’s accomplished hands, it’s exactly right. The Little Mermaid stands out as an impressive addition to the body of work of one of the most acclaimed children’s book creators of all time, and as a worthy rendition of a classic tale that has lured readers and storytellers alike for generations.