Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Isadora's (Isadora Dances) haunting retelling of this classic tale leaves Disney's cotton-candy version far behind. Hewing faithfully to the darker themes of Andersen's original, Isadora relates the bittersweet story of the little mermaid who falls in love with a human prince and finds her love unrequited. Doomed by the sea witch's nefarious contract to become sea foam, the mermaid rejects the villainess's offer to save herself by murdering the prince, and instead martyrs herself for love. It's a fey, powerfully moving tale, exquisitely illustrated. While the text spools out against squares of sea-washed greens and grays, Isadora's ethereal watercolor portraits register a wide range of emotions, from the sweet innocence of the mermaid's yearning captured in a face tilted toward the water's surface, to the eerie image of her five sisters floating on a moonlit sea, offering up a knife to slay the prince. Isadora displays a dramatist's sense of lighting, endowing many scenes with the visual presence of a stage play. The sea-witch, for instance, is doubly frightening by virtue of her face being illuminated as if by footlights, casting cruel shadows and highlights across her leering visage. Isadora's superb artistic efforts outshine the somewhat pedestrian retelling, however, which lacks the emotional resonance of the illustrations. Ages 4-8. (May)
As she has with previous interpretations of classics, Zwerger (Alice in Wonderland) works from Bell's faithful translation of Andersen's text, with no happily ever after. Here the mermaid must watch her beloved prince marry another, knowing that she herself will die the following day. Zwerger's exquisite watercolors bring to life the mermaid's world. At a window in the castle of her father, the sea king, the mermaid gazes out into the blue-green distance, wondering what life above must be like; while fish dart in and out, she pets one absently. Watery meadows of jade and turquoise suggest empty silence and foreshadow the mermaid's sacrifice to the sea witch in exchange for a human form, the heroine must trade her voice, "a lovelier voice than anyone on earth or in the sea." Zwerger represents the mermaid's shunning of her undersea home with a depiction of her overgrown garden, once the heroine's pride and joy. Other memorable scenes, framed in a white border, depict the mermaid towing the prince to shore after a shipwreck and, later, as dawn breaks on the day she is to turn to sea foam, the mermaid looks resolute, clothed in a glorious golden gown that resembles fish scales. Zwerger's parting scene, an aerial view of the prince's ship sailing away, amplifies the bittersweet yet redemptive conclusion, in which the little mermaid, now a "child of the air," may earn an immortal soul. The illustrations may well provide endless hours of reverie. Ages 4-8. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Until Disney got ahold of the story, countless generations were enthralled by Hans Christian Anderson's classic tale of the little mermaid. Now today's children have a chance to read the original tale accompanied by Zwerger's enchanting illustrations. The little mermaid has a privileged life in her father's palace under the sea, but she yearns for life above the water. After saving the life of a human prince, she is determined to find a way to live on the surface. She sacrifices her voice to the sea witch, only to be abandoned by the prince when he finds true love. The mermaid has one chance to live: by killing the prince. She refuses and dies, but is granted the chance to earn an immortal soul. Even if you already own a copy of this timeless classic, Zwerger's version is still worth buying. Her misty illustrations make what is (for today's children) a rather advanced text much more intriguing. On most pages, a sentence that describes the illustration is highlighted in a different color. If you know a child who has only ever known the Disney version, give them this book at once! 2004, Penguin, Ages 5 up.
Amie Rose Rotruck
Children's Literature - Eileen Hanning
This pretty little book contains a traditional rendition of Andersen's tale. In the original story, the little mermaid wants to marry the prince to gain an immortal soul. When the little mermaid trades her voice for legs, the prince befriends her but marries someone else. The ending isn't as happy as the Disney version, but it is certainly nobler and thought provoking. Feminist readers may wince at language such as ". . . but everyone knows you have to suffer if you want to look nice . . ." and at the little mermaid's need for the prince's love to earn her immortal soul, but they should read on. In the end, the little mermaid is her own heroine, both saving the prince and winning the opportunity to earn a soul by herself. The language stays true to the oral origins of Andersen's work resulting in a great tale but challenging and sometimes archaic syntax and vocabulary. Even experienced young readers may need a little help with words such as sulphur, unfurled, and tempestuous. While sophisticated word choices and nearly fifty pages of text may discourage younger readers from reading it alone, this story truly shines when read aloud. Illustrations were done by a variety of Disney artists during the early conceptual phases of their production of The Little Mermaid and provide a fascinating glimpse at other ways Ariel and her story might have been depicted by Disney.
Children's Literature - Emily Ferren
This adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's classic fairy tale comes alive. The magical, imaginative illustrations set the tone of this story about a little mermaid's desire to have a soul. The gentle pastel illustrations take readers to the beautiful sea kingdom where the princess lives. Isadora offers a well-crafted adaptation that is intrinsically woven with her rich illustrations. This would be a welcome addition to any collection, and one that ranks comparably to others of superb quality.
School Library Journal
Gr 3-6-A romantic interpretation of the classic tale. Hague has illustrated this traditional translation with jewel-toned paintings, depicting scenes of the little mermaid and her sisters in their underwater palace; the frightening realm of the hideous sea witch; the prince's storybook kingdom; and the ethereal forms of the daughters of the air. The illustrations, one to a page, vary in size from the first magical, full-page view of the Sea King's palace to the final, starlit glimpse of the lovely little mermaid smiling farewell to her beloved prince. Edward Frascino's pictures in Eva Le Gallienne's translation (HarperCollins, 1971; o.p.) feature a cartoonlike mermaid, and Chihiro Iwasaki's art in Anthea Bell's translation (Picture Book Studio, 1991) is more abstract. This new edition is a worthy purchase for all collections.-Susan Scheps, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH
Janice Del Negro
ger for reading aloud. This fine translation of Andersen's fairy tale first appeared in "Michael Hague's Favorite Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales" (1981). Hague's picture-book version is a colorful collection of undersea life--glittering fish, sparkling ocean flora, and merpeople with pearly tails float from page to page as the Little Mermaid pursues her impossible love. That the pictures do not always accurately reflect the text and that the faces of the characters are less graceful than their forms will go unnoticed by young readers captured by the romance of the subject at hand. The Little Mermaid's ultimate tragedy is foreshadowed by dark stormy seas and Andersen's own telling language. Parents may have to be warned that this is the antithesis of Disney, with a sad, if foregone, conclusion.
From Isadora (A South African Night, p. 496, etc.), a rich retelling of a dark and complex tale, with illustrations that are surprisingly uneven. The little mermaid turns 15: "She rose to the surface as light as a bubble. In the glow of sunset, a great ship lay anchored." She peers inside the porthole to view the young prince with whom she'll fall in love. The telling has a spellbinding cadence, lending itself to reading aloud. Scenes such as the storm destroying the ship, the sea witch, and the first portrait of the mermaid as a young girl are grand and accomplished; others aren't as strong. In almost every scene the little mermaid's hair and face varies to an amateurish degree; a scene of her and her grandmother demonstrates markedly different approaches to drawing faces: The little mermaid's is all but featureless, the elderly woman's is explicitly detailed. The text stands alone, but given Isadora's past accomplishments, it needn't be so. (Picture book/folklore. 6-9)