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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Review of the Day: Mermaids on Parade

Mermaids on Parade
By Melanie Hope Greenberg
G.P. Putnam’s Sons
$16.99
ISBN: 978-0-399-24708-8
Ages 4-8
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 

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About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth 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.

Comments

  1. melanie hope greenberg says:

    Betsy,
    Thanks so very much for really great, thoughtful, loop-eyed review.

    BIG THANKS to the librarians!

    This book started with librarians.
    Deloris McCullough and David Mowery, Division Managers of Brooklyn Central Branch gave me the idea. It fit into my lifestyle. With an invite to march with a performance art troupe (Superfine Dinettes from Dumbo) I was lucky to see the parade from an insider’s POV. And of course, the big kid in all comes out. Coney Island is a place to cherish for it’s grand mythology and as a part of our nation’s early immigrant democracy.

    The 2008 Mermaid Parade is on June 21 at 2pm at Coney Island. See you there,

  2. EDIE Weinberg says:

    I want to see this book! I love the cover and Melanie puts a pet peeve of mine on its head. I usually hate when type is in different colors for each letter but she’s made it work! And I love the “i”!

  3. Seta Toroyan says:

    Fabulous – makes me want to whip out my scissors and rustle up a mermaid suit…

  4. Another worthy mermaid-themed book of recent vintage is “If Mum and Me Were Mermaids,” which, as you might guess, is from England. I ordered it for my wife and daughter as a Mother’s Day gift based on a positive reviews in a British newspaper – The Guardian, I think. Doesn’t appear to be out here yet. I’ll be sure to check out this new one.

  5. Melanie Hope Greenberg says:

    Hi Edie,
    The credit for the great psychedelic lettering on the cover goes to Ceclilia Yung, art director/Richard Amari, designer. Cecilia Yung ‘cooked’ the colors in the book to look even better than my originals. At the beginning of the project she chatted with me over the phone for an hour and listened to my philosophies ( the real gesso behind each spread ) and gave great suggestions on narrative arc.