Gr 2–5—Soraya is a creative girl who marches to the beat of her own drum. She feels isolated from her fourth grade classmates and is most comfortable in the world of her comic book hero, Nimbla Moony. A class trip to the aquarium yields an unexpected surprise when Soraya is approached by a young mermaid who needs help returning to the sea. How can Soraya get Estelle safely out of the building to the nearby bay without detection? Does she have what it takes to be brave like her hero? Alikhan offers a fresh take on contemporary fantasy for the chapter book set with this diverse cast of characters, perfect for kids who struggle with fitting in with their peers. Soraya finally connects with a friend who accepts her quirks. Estelle can certainly relate, since her STEM-focused desire to design underwater buildings is atypical mermaid behavior. By the book's end, Soraya starts to learn to love herself and to trust others, as she and Estelle must accept help from various sea creatures to pull off the escape. This is an appropriate fit for the intended audience. The text is large, the margins wide, the vocabulary manageable, and the plot and conflict are straightforward. Large full-color illustrations can be seen every couple of pages—Soraya is depicted with light skin and dark hair, Estelle has dark brown skin and curly black hair, and the rest of the cast are drawn with a range of skin tones. Colorful boarders bedazzle every page, helping readers to keep up interest. A comic book section at the end illustrates Soraya's imaginings of what happens to Estelle upon returning to the sea, demonstrating to readers that our hero has found her niche in creating her own comics. Perfect for fans of Debbie Dadey's "Mermaid Tales," Abby Hanlon's "Dory Fantasmagory," and Wanda Coven's "Heidi Heckelbeck" series. VERDICT An easy choice for mermaid lovers and any transitional chapter book reader who likes their fiction laced with a bit of magic.—Kate Nafz, Fair Lawn P.L., NJ
Misfit Soraya must help a mermaid escape the aquarium without being seen in this series opener.
Fourth grader Soraya’s idol is comic-book hero Nimbla Moony. Her mom wants her to make real friends, but her classmates think she’s weird because of the things she says (often inspired by Nimbla Moony’s adventures). During a field trip to the aquarium, Soraya wanders off and is surprised to spot a human face amid the coral in the Ocean Journey exhibit. Even more shocking is when the face turns out to belong to a mermaid named Estelle, asking for help. Accidentally captured by fishing nets, Estelle needs Soraya’s help getting back to her ocean kingdom. With the help of the aquarium animals, Soraya must be brave like Nimbla Moony and get Estelle out of the crowded building without anyone seeing her. In the process, Soraya and Estelle discover they have an astonishing amount in common despite their dissimilarities. Alikhan pens a sweet story of a forming friendship and how there are positives to being different. Themes of an absent parent and selflessness are also present. Sohrabi’s bright, colorful, full-page illustrations are sprinkled through the 10 short chapters, with Soraya’s comic about the adventure, illustrated by Naalchigar, at the end. Soraya has pale skin and straight, black hair, and she explains her name is Persian. Estelle has brown skin, long, curly black hair, and dark eyes.
Action, sea creatures, and a mermaid make this thoughtful adventure a delight. (Fantasy. 7-10)