Review of the Day: Mermaids on Parade
Mermaids on Parade
By Melanie Hope Greenberg
G.P. Putnam’s Sons
On shelves May 29, 2008
New York City has changed a lot in the past 30 years. Used to be a grittier, seedier town. Graffiti and wild parties. Love and violence. And when New York had a parade it was an adults only affair. Today that seediness has receded, leaving everything a little more family friendly. You walk in Times Square and sex shops don’t appear to the eye. You can attend the Greenwich Village Halloween parade without worrying about excessive nudity. Really, one of the few parades left in the city that successfully melds that old-time wildness with the newfangled kid-friendly vibe is Coney Island’s annual Mermaid Parade. Boobs and babies, that’s what you’ll see these days. It seems an odd parade to celebrate in the format of a picture book, but Mermaid Parade attendee and illustrator Melanie Hope Greenberg is up to the challenge. With her bold colors and sense of pizzazz, Greenberg brings to life an event that continues to enthrall both children and adults alike with a love of fun, costumes, and general unavoidable weirdness.
A young girl puts on a mermaid costume, but not just for the fun of playing dress-up. The summer solstice is nigh and it’s time for the yearly Mermaid Parade at Coney Island. This year the girl will be participating with her mom and dad and they’ve come up with the perfect outfit to wow the judges. Joining them are crowds of other participants and everyone gets a number. Then, as people dressed as King Neptune and Queen Mermaid lead on, everyone marches down the boardwalk and around the streets for all the happy onlookers. The route ends at the sandy shore, but that’s not all there is to it. The Costume Judges look everyone over carefully and by the end of the day the girl has won for “Best Little Mermaid.” And though it may be over, next year it’ll happen all over again, and she has her trophy until then to remember.
For those of you who have first-hand experience with The Mermaid Parade, just let me say that there are no naked breasts in this book. Not so much as a drop of nip slippage. In fact, you could hardly come up with a more wholesome story of grown adults putting on shiny sequins and pretending to be the denizens of underwater lands. And for a moment I was a little sad when it looked as if there weren’t any men in skirts, but a closer inspection cheered me entirely as I found them. Greenberg has also included many of her fellow participants in this book, which is fun. Her style utilizes gouache, pen and pencil to create simple characters with distinctive personalities. Some might miss the presence of grime and sleaze, but this book is very much from a child’s perspective. And kids, by and large, notice shiny costumes before all else.
From a non-fiction standpoint the homework for this book covered several different areas. For example, there’s a pretty cool two-page spread that provides a map of the Coney Island area, detailing the parade route and all that it encompasses. Astroland, the Wonder Wheel, Nathan’s, the parachute drop, and even Keyspan Park are included (though I fear the Go Kart area has been one of the first areas of the park to go now that the area’s being “renovated”). Back matter includes information on “How to make a mermaid tale in 3 easy steps”. She isn’t kidding about the easy part either. The pattern and instructions are simple enough for even craft-challenged adults like myself to be able to whip up one of these puppies on the sly. If you’ve a storytime or a birthday party with a mermaid theme on the horizon, this book may be the friend you never knew you had. An Author’s Note offers historical information on the parade, going back long before its official inception in 1983. I also appreciated the time taken in the book to record the traditions of the parade, like cutting the ribbons that symbolize Autumn, Winter, Spring, and Summer and then tossing fruit into the waves.
As I sit at the reference desk at my library, there are moments when children inundate me with requests for mermaid picture books. I’ll pull out the usual Princess Fishtail and Sukey and the Mermaid, nine times out of ten. But if I judge the kid to be a little open in their choices, I might try to talk up a book where a girl goes to a real life parade here in New York where EVERYBODY dresses like a mermaid. The notion has appeal. Of course, I’ve the advantage that I’m a librarian in New York City, but no matter where you go, mermaids are pretty cool. And having a book that celebrates not just them but also people who dance to the beat of a different drum is well worth reading. Fun, eye-catching, and original. A parade picture book like none written before.
On shelves May 29th.
Note on the Bloggers: You should probably know that our very own Disco Mermaids make an appearance in this book. In fact, the three are on the very bookflap of the book (as well as inside), which is quite an honor. To the best of my knowledge this should mark the very first appearance of a children’s literary blogger (or three) in a picture book. Well done, guys!
Other Reviews: Publishers Weekly
Filed under: Reviews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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