If you are looking for a rousing book for Women’s History Month, Mermaid Queen: The Spectacular True Story Of Annette Kellerman, Who Swam Her Way To Fame, Fortune & Swimsuit History! by Shana Corey and Edwin Fotheringham (illustrator) is a perfect choice. This biography of swimmer and actress Annette Kellerman highlights many of the challenges women faced around the turn of the century. It was a Cybils nonfiction picture book finalist for 2009.
Annette Kellerman was born in Australia in 1886. When she was young, she suffered from weak legs. As therapy, her father taught her to swim and swim she did. After her legs recovered and became strong, she continued to swim. Eventually she was competing and winning awards. She also is credited with inventing “water ballet,” the early form of modern synchronized swimming.
When she went to England and then United States to perform, she met with resistance, not for her performances, but with her skimpy bathing suits. Annette had learned that swimming in the proper bathing dresses of the time was too difficult, so she designed more form-fitting suits. The suits initially caused a scandal and even led to her arrest, but she soon convinced everyone that it was much healthier to swim unencumbered. From these beginnings, our modern swim suits were developed.
As Shana Corey points out, although Annette had many firsts she also had some setbacks. One setback was her failure to swim the English Channel. At that time only one man had done so successfully. People admired Annette’s effort and she went on to increased fame. Her story is a wonderful way for children to learn that they may experience disappointments, but what may look like failure can turn into adventures and triumphs.
As for the physical look of the book itself, the illustrations in Mermaid Queen are bright, colorful and frothy. You can feel the water, energy and motion on every page. The only criticism I have is the choice of font and font size. The fonts jump around and change size. Some of the fonts are quite frilly. It is fun for an adult to read, but difficult for a reader who is struggling or just learning to read.
Mermaid Queen is another great example of a book about someone who has been all but forgotten in modern times, but whose story is inspiring and deserves to be told.
As a Cybils judge, a copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 48 pages
Publisher: Scholastic Press (April 1, 2009)