Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4
What did you like about the book? Out for a walk on the coastal grounds of a medieval Irish monastery, Brother Declan comes upon a boy washed up on the shore, surrounded by seals. He brings him to the abbey but none of the brothers can determine where he came from. After being nursed back to health, the boy – Rónán – tells the monks that he was shipwrecked with his father and brought to shore by a lady with long golden hair who sang to him. Brother Declan believes that this story is in line with a local legend of a mermaid who had once been a princess.
Rónán stays with the brothers and becomes part of their community; he does chores and learns music and is particularly gifted at the harp. But he always longs to hear the mermaid’s song again and find her. One day he hears it and convinces the Abbot to let him go out to fish for their dinner. He brings his harp along and sure enough is reunited with the mermaid and confirms that she is the princess Líban. She confides that she has been sad and adrift for 300 years and implores him to take her to the Abbot for his blessing so her soul can be at peace.
It is mentioned in the author’s biography that she is a seanchaí, a traditional Irish storyteller, and this comes through in the phrasing and lilt of the narration. Soft watercolor sea- and landscapes match the gentle tone and slow pace in the story. An author’s note provides insight into the origins of the story, from the actual monastery which is the setting of the book.
Anything you didn’t like about it? I just don’t think the ending will satisfy children. And those readers who clamor for mermaid tales will be disappointed too, as the legendary creature only actually appears once.
To whom would you recommend this book? Though not an actual folk story, I think it is a nice addition to collections of traditional tales in the vein of Tomie de Paola’s legend stories, and others by the likes of Jane Yolen or Susan Cooper.
Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries
Where would you shelve it? Picture Books (my initial instinct was 398.2, but it is an original story based on a real monastery and its records)
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? no
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Leigh King, Lincoln St. Elementary School, Northborough, Mass.
Date of review: 6/5/2020