Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Free To Be: Fish Girl by David Weisner and Donna Jo Napoli

Welcome to Ocean Wonders, the realm of Neptune, god of seas and storms. I am the most powerful of the gods. Everything you see here obeys my commands.

Here you find specimens from the deepest, darkest depths, where no human has ventured--but where I, Neptune, travel with ease.

The Fish Girl! Is she fish or is she girl? She is the last of her kind, seen only at Ocean Wonders. I control her!

At the seaside stands a tall, narrow, vintage building, presided over by a proprietor who wears a crown, bears a trident, and calls himself Neptune. Inside the glass cases on all three floors are ocean animals, sharks, sea turtles, even a large octopus, where Mr. Neptune controls everything, creating stormy seas, winds, and as he sees it, to...

... I bring disaster to those who defy me.

Her job, Neptune orders, is to show herself briefly, in part, in a flashing glance, a hand, or a waving tail, to keep the viewers coming and tossing coins into her tank. He brandishes his trident and roils her waters and warns her that he is her protector from the human scientists who might take her away to their labs and cut her open.

But Fish Girl has a mind of her own. She sees a girl named Livia and wants to get to know her better. Little by little, she shows herself more and more to her, and finally they touch hands over the top of her tank. Through the window, she sees Livia and others walking and running on the beach and swimming freely in the sea. Livia names her Mira, short for Miracle,

Fearfully Mira begins brief excursions outside her tank in the night, with her friend Octopus providing the splashes that make it possible for her to slide across the floor, and she discovers that Neptune's trident is actually a decorative remote control that creates the storms in the tank.

And then on one midnight foray, she tries on a souvenir Fish Girl tee-shirt, and makes a discovery.

I look human. I look like someone who can walk. And talk.

And then Mira discovers that her mermaid's tail vanishes when she is out of the water. She ventures outside at night and discovers that she can speak with Livie. Now she sees that she, not the man who calls himself Neptune, is the one with the balance of power on her side.

In their NOT-the-Little-Mermaid story, David Wiesner's and Donna Jo Napoli's fantasy graphic novel, Fish Girl (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2017), gives the fairy tale character a modern consciousness, a liberated mermaid who gives up nothing to gain her freedom, but finds her real self outside the protective prison of her glass case. Napoli and Wiesner tell a modern fantasy tale of the power of a friendship, from both Octopus and the girl Livia, and the power of self-realization that comes with personal freedom. Told in vivid and detailed full-page and comic-book-framed illustrations by the multiple-Caldecott Award-winning David Wiesner and with the added narratives of author Donna Jo Napoli, this is a book rich with many sub-texts--domination, economic exploitation, personal liberty, self-emancipation, and the power of friendship--all in an engrossing format that will engage middle readers deeply.

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