cover image Mariana and the Merchild: A Folk Tale from Chile

Mariana and the Merchild: A Folk Tale from Chile

Caroline Pitcher. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, $17 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-8028-5204-5

Pitcher and Morris (previously paired for The Time of the Lion) turn to Chilean folklore for this atmospheric story. After a storm, lonely, old Mariana discovers a baby enclosed in a crab shell that has washed up on the beach. The child is a merbaby, and her mother, a resplendent sea spirit (""...tall as a mast. Her hair flamed red and her skin shone as if polished by the sun with mother-of-pearl""). The mother asks Mariana to keep the child, just until the seas calm. Morris's style evokes both the solidity of indigenous art, with heavy, low-to-the-ground characters, and ethereal, fairy-tale illustration, as in the delicate colorations of the merbaby's red tail. Flowing watercolors picture an ocean both bountiful and violent, and lyrically import Pitcher's imagery of sea-wolves that crest upon turbulent waves. Closely framed compositions allow Mariana to dominate most spreads, subtly conveying her initial loneliness and later suggesting her joy in the red-haired merbaby--and her pain when she must surrender the child. Half-page and three-quarter-page illustrations face occasional textile-like borders, finely wrought spot art and narrow vignettes, creating a visual rhythm that mimics the ebb and flow of the sea. Matched with Pitcher's sparkling descriptions (e.g., Mariana's fire ""spangles [the merchild's] tail with pink and vermilion""), the art conjures a folkloric world, where nature is no less mysterious than magic. All ages. (Mar.)