“While not remarkable, this quirky mermaid tale shares the important message of friends accepting and appreciating others for their differences.”
Mabel the mermaid is the only one in her family that doesn’t have a mustache. She tries to hide her lack of facial hair with “jaunty shells” and “seaweed falsies,” but she just feels silly, and other fish call her a “nudibranch.” She doesn’t know what that means, but she knows it must be bad . . . so she hides away in holes on the ocean floor. One of the holes has another occupant named Lucky—a seven-legged octopus who also feels diminished by its differences—and the two become good friends. While playing around the coral, fish swim by and call them both “nudibranchs,” and Mabel finally learns what the word means from Lucky’s perceptive point of view: amazing sea slugs! Ending full circle on a cliche but appropriate note, Mabel realizes “everything she ever really needed was already right under her nose.” The muted, colorful watercolor illustrations are adorable in a unconventional way, boasting short and stout mermaids and bright, creative nudibranchs. Watkins intertwines clever touches—such as witty word play, the baby’s mustache, Mabel’s “sort of” juggling, the ignoring of the bullies, and wavy text appearing to ride the ocean current—with his unique and quirky illustrations to display a sweet message of the value of true friends, being oneself, and appreciating differences.
Mabel is different because she doesn't have a mustache, and Lucky is different for only having seven legs instead of eight. What makes you different and unique?
Lucky shows Mabel that you don't need to be like everyone else to be happy. When you see bullies like the puffer fish that call Mabel and Lucky "nudibranchs," what can you do to be inclusive, kind, and appreciative of others' differences?
"Both message and basic plot are well covered in picture books, however, and this one doesn’t particularly rise above the rest in delivery. Still, the presence of both mermaids and mustaches may heighten its appeal to a broader audience.
A somewhat special book about being special."
I’m the least messy person in my apartment, but that’s not saying much. I also have the shortest legs and am the least spontaneous…by leaps and bounds. Other than my dog. Who is not spontaneous at all. And who also has much shorter legs than me. Although they are proportionally bigger, if we’re being totally honest with each other. Which is not saying much. But it’s true.
Speaking of true things, my wife really truly does call me Rowboat. I think it’s fair to say it never once occurred to my parents to call me Rowboat. So they didn’t. To this day my dad is still convinced my name is Robot. Which it is not. Nothing against robots. I’m pro robot. But I’m a rowboat. With short legs. And an aversion to turtlenecks sweaters and boots.
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March 24, 2020
Typeset in Austral Slab Rough
The illustrations in this book were made with pencil, watercolor, ink, vintage book paper, and an iMac.