cover image Mermaid Tales from Around the World

Mermaid Tales from Around the World

Mary Pope Osborne. Scholastic, $16.95 (84pp) ISBN 978-0-590-44377-7

Contrary to what some moviegoers may think, Disney didn't invent mermaids. The aquatic females have figured in myths and folktales since time out of mind, and readers looking for life beyond Ariel would do well to check out the bevy of sea nymphs featured in Osborne and Howell's ( Favorite Greek Myths ) outstanding collection of stories. Osborne has culled her choices from many cultures--African, European, Asian, Native American and Mediterranean, to name a few--and the resulting stories more than uphold her assertion that mermaids are hardly the ``typical legendary heroine--beautiful, kind, and in need of rescue.'' Rather, these spirits are ``fiercely strong'' and independent, sometimes generous, sometimes merciless. Osborne's retellings are seamless, her prose both vigorous and picturesque (``The morning light shone on her sea-green hair like melted butter shines on cabbage''), while Howell's astonishing illustrations provide a virtual crash-course in art history. In a radical departure from his usual lush, realistic style, Howell instead reaches into the heart of the particular culture producing each tale: the frontispiece for an Iranian tale is reminiscent of a Persian miniature; the artwork for the Greek myth of Galatea and the Cyclops resembles the decoration on a black-figure urn; and the Irish folktale features the kind of stylized primitive that might be found on a pub sign. Readers can only hope that Osborne and Howell will continue to collaborate--their teamwork is magnificent. Ages 7-up. (Sept.)