Inspiring Young Readers

posted on 05 Jan 2024

Lily the Pond Mermaid by Lucy Fleming

There are already a lot of children’s books about Mermaids because these fascinating mythical creatures have become embedded in our culture. The controversy about how the ethnicity of Hans Christian Andersen's ‘The Little Mermaid’ should be represented in a recent film demonstrates how fiercely some people cling to their ideas of what is traditional and therefore appropriate. I would guess that the same critics might be disturbed at how this picture book disrupts the conventional natural living environment because Lily is a Mermaid who lives in a pond rather than the sea!

I read this to a group of five-year-old children along with a couple of other Mermaid stories and they immediately noticed this feature when we read the title together. Any picture book that can capture the attention of the reader from the outset is onto a winner. The cover shows a wide-eyed, white-haired character swishing her salmon-coloured tail with matching top in the greenish water framed by pond weed. She is joined by a small yellow fish and a frog who seem to be very content to share the living space. We talked for a while about whether she was trying to blend in with other fish that might live in the pond and decided to do a bit of research about this after the story. 

At the start we learn that Lily and her two friends are just some of the characters who populate the very busy pond. The first double page spread shows her sitting on a large stone holding a butterfly and surrounded by birds, lizards, dragonflies and damselflies and plenty of colourful flowers and grasses – so much interesting detail to enjoy. It seems that she spends much of her time carefully tending to the flowers and sharing algae with her snail friends. She also protects the tadpoles from the hot midday sun and is particularly keen to play with her best friend Bobbie, although we were puzzled about how she might distinguish him from all the others. One of the children wondered if she would still like him as much once he changed his appearance and shape, but then reflected that friends were forever as long as they still enjoyed doing the same things together!

As she spends her time looking after the pond environment and rescuing creatures from various dangers she reflects:

‘I’ll always be here; there’s no need to fear.

All will be well when a pond mermaid is near.’

We lingered on this page and wondered whether something bad might be about to happen.  It seems that the kind and competent Lily is also a big worrier and soon realises that she can’t solve everyone’s problems on her own. When a big storm arrives, made even more significant in the story because we needed to turn the book around to accommodate a vertical design, she is really concerned. I won’t spoil what happens next but Lily does her best to be courageous and asks for help from her many friends.

We enjoyed reading this picture book with its overriding message about caring for one another. The lush and detailed illustrations provided lots of talking points and would inspire some follow up creative artwork. 

I strongly recommend this unusual addition to the Mermaid genre of books which is now available from Walker Books. It can be obtained from your local independent bookshop – who will be happy to order it for you if not available on their shelves. 

Karen Argent

January 2024