Chipo and the Mermaid by Grace Ashley is subtitled An African Fairytale and it is certainly also a mermaid story with a difference. Chipo and her father, Mukoko, lived in a little village in the savanna plains of Africa. Chipo’s mother died in childbirth and Mukoko, realising he would need help raising his little daughter Chipo, so named in memory of her mother, decided to marry a beautiful young woman he had fallen in love with: Nakai. Chipo’s stepmother was angry that Chipo and her father were so close. Later a daughter, Tino, was born to the couple, but things did not improve because Mukoko did not show as much love to Tino as he did to Chipo. Nakai visited a powerful wizard for a potion to change Mukoko’s feelings towards his daughter … and it worked. Chipo became practically the family skivvy, doing all the work, while her sister, Tino, lolled about, doing nothing. One evening Chipo went down to the river to fetch water and met the mermaid of the river. The mermaid felt sorry for Chipo and decided to take her to the cave where she lived in the bottom of the river. How Chipo’s life changed after that!
I loved this story and laughed out loud at the end when lazy Tino and greedy, vengeful Nakai definitely get the “reward” they so richly deserve. There are so many lovely lessons embedded in this delightful tale that it’s hard to know where to start. Family love is highlighted, along with caring, consideration, respect for others, and putting others first. As also are being careful to avoid being jealous, not being rude to people, not being demanding, and to be mindful of what you do in life and how you treat others because you never know what repercussions can happen. This is both a fairytale and a fable in a unique setting that is sure to get youngsters both wanting the story read out loud to them again, and wanting to find out more about Africa. In case you don’t think it is possible, mermaids are well known in African culture.
I loved the illustrations that are simple, bold, and beautiful and perfectly depict the setting and the characters. The bright, vibrant colours will attract and keep young readers’ attention, and they will also enjoy picking out the other visual elements that enhance the story. This is a Cinderella style story with a difference and one that both teaches and entertains. It’s the kind of book that can lead to great further discussion between an adult or teacher and young readers, with many points to ponder as well as sparking youngsters’ curiosity to learn more about Africa, the culture, and the animals. I would recommend this to parents, teachers, and caregivers for that “something different” to pique young readers’ interest.