Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Shellie: Keeper by Kathi Appelt


Mini Synopsys:   This is a children’s and pre-teen book where the main character is Keeper. She is an almost ten year old girl who lives on the beach by the gulf of Mexico in Texas. There are a menagerie of animals in her life - two dogs, a cat, and a seagull, but what is special is that she can hear them talk.

She is well loved and cared for by Signe, her mom by default, their friend Dogie (a healing war veteran turned local surf board rental guy), and an old Russian sailor named Mr. Beauchamp. Keeper is like many young girls of that age, still believing in the magical, which includes ghosts and “merfolk”.

One particularly bad day she gets herself into very hot water, or should I say ocean water, in an attempt to find her “real mother” whom she believes to be a mermaid. We can only imagine what can happen here, as myth and folklore are combined and fantasy seamlessly blends into reality in this sweet and heart wrenching tale.

My Thoughts:   I loved this little book because it is a wonderful introduction to multicultural mermaid lore for a youngster (and in my case, adult). The author includes “merfolk” from different cultures within the story including characters whom are multicultural as well; their ethnicity is not completely defined. Because of these elements and more I believe Keeper will be an excellent teaching tool. It can be used as a spin-off for lessons on water safety, myth/fairytales/folklore and their definitions and differences, some science based lessons on geology and marine biology, as well as the defining of reality and make believe. All are important concepts in a growing mind, and if I remember correctly are included in many state curriculums.

Examining things further with the theme of adult “joint or supervised read”, the book has a number of time shifts where the author goes back and forth between the present and the past giving the story a complexity which some younger readers may struggle with, if not explained by or discussed with an adult. The story also includes  issues around abandonment, as well as the importance of creating family ritual, which a younger reader may not completely understand unless they are discussed. These all can be very good things if the book is moderated.

In addition the book contains illustrations which are simple that will interest a younger reader transitioning into more wordy books. The author also has a way of creating simple yet very deep and meaningful language which cuts to one’s heart and which is lovely for both children and adults. I think that the most special aspect of the story is that it contains several wonderful and key GLBT characters. Lastly, the ending is the type which I prefer, not completely that of a fairytale but with a slight tweak making one think, feel, and remember.

Highly recommended reading for adults who like myth and folklore mixed with realism, and for those who read to and teach children. As for children I would say all but a few will love it. I am rating this a 4 stars. I imagine that this story will be nominated for a variety or children’s book award.

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