December 12, 2017

Mermaid Warrior Squad

Written by Karin Adams
Illustrated by Janine Carrington
James Lorimer & Co.
150 pp.
Ages 7-11
August 2017

When Dylan meets the friendly Coral at art camp, the two eleven-year-old girls seem destined to become partners.  They both love oceans and know a lot about the sea animals, perfect for an art camp themed as "Art Under the Sea." Even better, they come into the camp with different strengths:  Coral loves to draw and Dylan likes to write.  In fact, both had already created mermaid characters: Coral's is a tough-looking mermaid she calls Crash, the Mighty Mermaid Warrior, and Dylan's is a mermaid renegade named Driftwood whose mission it is to protect the oceans.  The two decide to merge their ideas and collaborate on a comic book in which the two mermaids become the Mermaid Warrior Squad.
From Mermaid Warrior Squad 
by Karin Adams
 illus. by Janine Carrington
While the two girls work on their project, as depicted in illustrator Janine Carrington's graphic insets of the two mermaids, they are also dealing with getting to know each other and their fellow campers.  Dylan loves having a friend–she's obviously a bit of an introvert–but she's having difficulties dealing with Coral's exuberance and tendency to get carried away with her efforts, silliness and volume.  The other campers include Lynn, another quiet girl; Ben, the annoying prankster; Jade and Sarina, the trendy girls; and decent guys Ryan and Lamar.  From this crew, Dylan and Coral contrive new characters like a dolphin-mermaid hybrid, the villain Captain Fishhead, the evil Seaweed Sisters, and Shark Dudes.  Their story is evolving but so is their friendship as Coral decides unilaterally on their skit for the camp's culminating performance and Dylan is compelled to stand up for herself. Ultimately, though, their friendship means more to Dylan than sitting back and watching Coral be humiliated, and she's there to rescue her friend, even if it need happen on stage.

Karin Adams's story approaches multiple themes of oceans and creating art as well as clashing personalities with humour and much insight.  It's obvious that, as much as they have common interests, Dylan and Coral have very different personalities.  Overcoming these differences so that they might work together and be supportive of each other is a key element of Mermaid Warrior Squad.  Just like their mermaid characters, the two girls' efforts are more impactful when they work together than when they are at odds with one another.  This is an important lesson for children who are often forced to work together in school and extracurricular activities.  Not every child is a Coral who wants to be at the heart of the action.  Some need to quietly work at the side in order to reach their full potential.  Though most people, including teachers, are extroverts who don't see the harm done by expecting all children to love group activities or being part of the rah-rah crowd, Mermaid Warrior Squad recognizes that children will find their own ways to be true to themselves, taking risks as they choose, and still make friends with those unlike themselves.  Strength comes from both being yourself and working with others, whether you have a mermaid tail or not.

Whether a child is heading to camp, dealing with making and keeping friends, understanding their own personality or one who loves oceans or comic books, Mermaid Warrior Squad is an entertaining light read that will engage those who are beyond early readers but might find much middle-grade fiction more daunting.  It's a nice little package of humour and lessons for middle-graders.

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