Don’t Let Ariel Go It Alone: The Black Mermaid Booklist of EPL

July 18, 2019

You may have seen the recent announcement surrounding the latest live action Disney movie, The Little Mermaid. In a surprisingly refreshing move, the studio cast Halle Bailey, an African-American actress, as the new Ariel. The response was universally supportive.

Yeah. I wish.

No, as you might expect, the racists came out of the woodwork in droves and got all kinds of nasty online.

But you know who wasn’t surprised by the presence of black mermaids in the world? Children’s librarians. Children’s books have sported black mermaids for years. In fact, one of my earliest memories of being read a picture book in first or second grade. The school librarian announced that she would be reading us the book Sukey and the Mermaid by Robert D. San Souci, illustrated by Brian Pinkney. At the time, it was the only mermaid-related picture book I had ever seen. Pinkney’s scratch art burned the images of the book deep into my gray matter, leaving permanent marks. Years later, when I became a children’s librarian, if a child came up asking for a mermaid picture book, that was the first one I handed to them

So for those of you interested in getting your kids up to speed on some truly cool mermaids (with ties to Caribbean folklore and oral legends, West Africa’s Mami Wata, the mermaids of South Africa’s Khoi-san people, and in Mali the half-fish, half-people creatures from the Dogon) here are the titles you can find at Evanston Public Library

Sukey and the Mermaid by Robert D. San Souci, ill. Brian Pinkney

While there may have been other mermaid picture books around when I was a kid, how many were award winners? Zippo. This story was based on a folktale from the Sea Islands of South Carolina with Caribbean and West African sources.

Mermaid Dreams by Kate Pugsley

A brand spanking new 2019 title, Pugsley’s book shows a wide array of mermaids inside, but I like that the heroine is brown-skinned Maya, shown here on the cover.

Mermaid Tales by Debbie Dadey

Look for the ones starring Shelly in the series. This is an older set of early chapter books (2012) trust me when I say they’re still in wide demand.

Her Stories: African American Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales by Virginia Hamilton

It would be a real shame if I forgot to include this story “Mary Belle and the Mermaid” from Hamilton’s Her Stories. Just look at that gorgeous Dillon art. Now those guys knew how to draw a shining tail.

The Mermaid’s Twin Sister: More Stories From Trinidad by Lynn Joseph

There is a reason that a lot of librarians hold onto the books in their fairytale and folktale sections protectively. And where better than Trinidad to find something mysterious in the water?

Rise of the Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste

This is one of the rare middle grade novel mermaids on this list. It may be a sequel, but not every sequel out there ends up on an NPR / School Library Journal / Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year lists.

Julian Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

This book is not without some critical discussions, mind, and it can be very informative to read the back and forth on the topic. For my part, when I look for black boy mermaids out there (or, heck, ANY boy mermaids at all in children’s literature) I find nothing but Julián. Winner of the 2019 Stonewall Book Award, this story is much beloved of the Drag Queen Story Hours nationwide.



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