The Little Mermaid

by Jerry Pinkney (Author)

The Little Mermaid
Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

Melody, the littlest sea princess, is not content just to sing in the choir of mermaids like her sisters. She is an explorer who wonders about what lies above the water's surface . . . especially the young girl she has spied from a distance. To meet her requires a terrible sacrifice: she trades her beautiful voice for a potion that gives her legs, so that she may live on land instead. It seems like a dream come true at first. But when trouble stirs beneath the ocean, Melody faces another impossible choice -- stay with her friend, or reclaim her true identity and save her family.

Legendary artist Jerry Pinkney's singular reinvention of this tale about love and sacrifice empowers young, twenty-first century girls with the strong message that  "you should never give up your voice . . . for anyone."

Kirkus Reviews

Another modern classic from one of our finest illustrators. 


Starred Review
Pinkney has created a virtuosic alternative that celebrates the acceptance of differences.

Horn Book Magazine

A spirited and elegant revisioning.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review

Caldecott Medalist Pinkney's (A Place to Land) recasting of Andersen's fairy tale affirms girls' voices and power while offering dazzling undersea magic. Melody, the Sea King's youngest daughter, spends her time sifting through shipwrecks until a forbidden trip to the ocean's surface offers her a glimpse of Zion, a human girl she yearns to meet. A bargain struck with the terrifying Sea Witch gives Melody a human body in exchange for her voice, and she spends an idyllic day outside a sunbleached village with Zion, who is curious, patient, and accepting of Melody's differences. Just as Melody appreciates shipwrecks, Zion investigates insects, and before Melody departs, Zion presents her with a chrysalis--a metaphor for Melody's transformation. "It is growing wings, and very soon it will fly over land and sea." The dynamic energy of the ocean currents, portraits of characters of color and entities both real and imagined, and a final battle with the Sea Witch give the undersea spreads breathtaking drama and sumptuousness, while the message (in Zion's words, "you should have never given up your voice... for anything") conveys the importance of summoning one's own power and finding friends who do the same. Ages 4-8. Agent: Sheldon Fogelman, Sheldon Fogelman Agency. (Nov.)

Copyright 2020 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

Starred Review

PreS-Gr 3—In this modern adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson's, "The Little Mermaid," Pinkney uses his signature pencil and watercolor technique, coupled with inspiration from African mythologies of water spirits, to depict an empowering reimagining of this beloved tale. Readers are plunged far below the sea to a simultaneously dark and luminous watery world, lush with plants and lurking sea creatures. Melody is the youngest of the Sea King's four daughters and the family is depicted as merfolk of color. She yearns for exploration beyond the sea and to befriend the girl she spies on the distant, unfamiliar shore. Eliminated is the traditional plot line of the mermaid desiring the love of a prince, making this adaptation not only approachable for young readers, but a celebration of a strong, independent girl. However, in line with the classic plot trajectory, Melody sacrifices her most precious gift, her voice, to the evil Sea Witch in exchange for legs to experience the world beyond the sea. Ashore, Melody befriends the girl she saw from afar, Zion, also a girl of color similar in age to Melody, who tells her "you should have never given up your voice ... for anything." After the leisurely climb to Melody's journey ashore and pivotal realization that her voice is a powerful gift, the inevitable good versus evil battle that erupts between the Sea Witch and the Sea King, calling Melody back to the sea, may feel somewhat rushed to conclusion. VERDICT An essential and empowering adaptation, for all ages, and every collection.—Emily Brush, Novi Public Library, MI

Copyright 2020 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

Jerry Pinkney
Jerry Pinkney is one of the most heralded children's book illustrators of all time and has illustrated more than 100 books. He has the rare distinction of being the recipient of five Caldecott Honors and the winner of the 2010 Caldecott Medal for The Lion and the Mouse, and has since created several companion books: The Tortoise & the Hare, The Grasshopper & the Ants, The Three Billy Goats Gruff, and The Little Mermaid.
He has won the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award five times and the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor four times. Jerry has received several major lifetime achievement awards and was also the first children's book illustrator elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He lives with his wife, author Gloria Jean Pinkney, in Croton-on-Hudson, New York. The artist invites you to visit his website at
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date
November 20, 2020
BISAC categories
JUV022000 - Juvenile Fiction | Legends, Myths, & Fables | General
JUV012040 - Juvenile Fiction | Fairy Tales & Folklore | Adaptations
JUV066000 - Juvenile Fiction | Mermaids
Library of Congress categories
Picture books
Fairy tales

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