They looked up as a cluster of piranhas started making their way back down from the rock face.
Shelly Shelby started drumming her fingers against her tail with the momentum of someone who thought time was going to run out. ‘Your mother is a dear friend of mine, Beattie, and she’d want me to tell you to stay safe, to hide. But I say – be like her!
‘But I’m not nearly as brave as her,’ Beattie mumbled.
‘Go find danger! Be bold! Bad!’ Shelly Shelby went on, really getting into it. ‘And figure out how to stop this Swan character.’
(Bad Mermaids by Sibeal Pounder. P51.)
Beattie, Mimi and Zelda are enjoying a holiday on land when they receive a Crabgram from mermaid queen Arabella Cod. It instructs them to go home to the lagoon through the secret back pipe entrance. If Beattie’s Mum can investigate wrecks in the Atlantic searching for legendary shells of power, then surely Beattie can be brave?
The girls arrive home to find Arabella has been overthrown by a mysterious mermaid known only as The Swan. The Swan orders her sidekick Ommy Pike to keep the lagoon under surveillance. Piranhas follow the mermaids, drawn to them by the marks imprinted on their nails. Beattie, Mimi and Zelda were away when Arabella was overthrown, so they haven’t got the piranha marks. They may be the only mermaids who can investigate.
Every year the mermaid queen appoints five mermaids to rule the districts of the Lagoon. When it becomes apparent that the only mermaids Arabella met with on the day she vanished were the newly appointed SHOAL councillors, Beattie and her friends journey across the lagoon, seeking the truth while trying to avoid some seriously bad mermaids.
In Witch Wars, Sibeal Pounder made a distinctive world, of friendship, glitz and quirky buildings. She’s done it again. The Lagoon has its own fashions and sports, television shows and cars. The different areas of the Lagoon are distinctively different from each other, allowing Pounder to go to town with her ability to create interesting places. You’ve got to love the restaurant built in the stomach of a floating shark, and the drive-through hairdressers of upper-class Oysterdale. Pounder is clearly observant of people and their quirks.
The mystery itself is straightforward. It can only be one of four people – we work through the SHOAL councillors until we realise what we’re overlooking and the mystery is solved. I don’t read much younger MG, (although Pounder’s books make me think I should read more,) but I imagine the limited range of suspects is comforting to a very young audience. There is more to the story than the initial mystery. A secondary plot comes into play, opening new questions and leading us into a sequel.
Pounder’s books remind me of some of the puzzle adventures I read when I was young. This is not about the style, but the poems and magazine pages, menus and letters which build the narrative alongside the story itself. We’ve got half an eye on Beattie’s Mum, who is off exploring wrecks. There a secret codes to solve, and a whole chapter written in ‘mermish’. Reading is about so much more than sitting with a book. Reading is about involvement with a text. Pounder offers her young readers different ways to interact with the story.
On a similar note, throughout the story we’re keeping track of press cuttings from ‘The Scribbled Squid’ and ‘Clamzine’. I was ridiculously tickled by this element of the text. The Scribbled Squid is a newly opened gossip tabloid. Alongside news from the Clamzine, we’re presented with misinformation and unnecessary gossip form The Scribbled Squid. What a great way to open conversation about reliable and unreliable media from the very young. What an important conversation to have with children, who have access to a range of communication from an early age. You’ve got to laugh when meet Penny Poach, editor of The Scribbled Squid. So much can be communicated by a character’s name.
Fun and funky, Bad Mermaids is a great adventure. Certainly a quick read for adult kidlitters, but you close the book feeling as if you have been in Lagoon. I look forward to the rest of the series, and intend to read the rest of Witch Wars at the nearest opportunity.