“The Mermaid and the Shoe”: An Uncomplicated Fairy Tale
April 4, 2014 § Leave a comment
K.G. Campbell’s delicately illustrated and completely charming picture book The Mermaid and the Shoe received several good reviews this week, and rightly so. The illustrations are beautiful while still engaging, and the story is simple and sweet. Minnow, the youngest daughter of a mer-king has yet to find her calling in life—her sisters tend to gardens, or train fish, but she is not good at any of these pursuits. But when she finds a strange object, she’s determined to discover its origins. Her journey takes her to the surface of the water, where she discovers a world in which mer-people don’t swim at all, but walk about on funny-looking appendages that they hide under shoes. If we were swimming in the seas of Hans Christian Andersen or Walt Disney, here would be the moment our mermaid spies her prince. But in K.G. Campbell’s refreshing book, Minnow swims quickly home, eager to tell her family all that she’s seen, and to find that her curiosity and storytelling are her calling.
The tale ends there—an uncomplicated story about a girl finding her confidence and her niche, eschewing any romance, sea-witches, or annoying foot pains. Yet the similarities between The Mermaid and the Shoe and Andersen’s The Little Mermaid (and Disney’s too, if we’re being honest here) are also what will have the adults choosing it scratching their heads. Isn’t there more? We know there is. Will this mermaid princess come to know what exists over the highest sand dune? She wouldn’t be the first — and we know from prior stories that what lies above the surface isn’t all pleasant. Parents might find this short tale easier to explain to children, but they’ll likely have trouble shaking the more complicated story that is its ancestor. And this comparison may paint The Mermaid and the Shoe in a somewhat boring light. Ah, well. It’s beautifully illustrated, and I can certainly appreciate an homage to storytelling, in any form. An endearing fable, The Mermaid and the Shoe is an escape for parents who aren’t up to explaining why any sane young mer-girl would give up her voice for a man. My hope would be that the child who has this story read to them will be inspired, as they grow, to discover more complex fairy tales.