Alice Hoffman’s Water Tales

cover, Water TalesKate Danemark wrote this review.

Left to myself, I would have been hard pressed to come up with my three hundred requisite words for a review of the two novels, Aquamarine and Indigo, contained in Water Tales. To me, the stories were wholly uninteresting, without meaningful challenges to the characters, plot and character development were sorely lacking, and worst of all, I read the whole thing in about an hour.

Disappointed, and wondering how I could possibly concoct a review from this, I decided to pull in my emergency back-up crew: the kids.

Vinnie is 11, Molly 6. They are both avid readers, and tend to go for interesting, compelling stories. Big fans of Neil Gaiman and Jane Yolen. I feel they can be trusted.

“Vinnie’s first comment was, “The pictures aren’t very good.” Aha! I thought, ” This backs up my theory.” But he immediately followed that with, “actually, the pictures are good, but they’re too dark to see anything.”

I had thought they were very good illustrations, too. In fact what appeal the books had for me was pretty much related to these mysterious, haunting black and white images. There’s a lovely mermaid approaching the water’s surface, rising from the murky depths below. Another picture showing three shadowy figures perched atop the roof of a house elicits memories of long summer days, with nothing to do to fill them. The best, I think, is a linear perspective of a road at dusk, tree lined, and stretching off into mystery. Its an ominous scene, but the adventure surely at its end makes it almost an invitation to explore. They appear to be pencil or charcoal sketches, but in the print medium, it is difficult to discern their original nature.

The books had seemed to me to fall somewhere between Vinnie and Molly’s interest ranges, but I gathered them for a family reading session, and advised them to listen carefully, and respond honestly. Both sat quietly, fiddling with other toys, throughout the first half hour, after which they assured me they were both intrigued by the story. This has proven out in the days since that first reading, as they clamor for more.

We are nearly finished now with Aquamarine, a modern adaptation of “The Little Mermaid.”

Here we meet Claire and Hailey, best friends who have lived next door to each other in an unnamed beach town for their entire 12 years of life. Claire is cautious, and the planner of all the girl’s adventures. Hailey is the brave one, taking Claire’s careful plans and executing them with daring and finesse. The quiet rhythm of their life is disrupted when Claire’s grandparents, her guardians since the death of her parents, decide to move to Florida. The impression given is that Florida is unreachably far away, and the friends fear they will never again see each other.

Spending the few remaining days before the move haunting the beach club where they spend every summer, the friends despair of their hopeless situation. But the accidental discovery of a stranded mermaid redirects the girls, and gives them a purpose and responsibility beyond their youth. To save the mermaid, the friends must work together, combining the skills and talents each possess.

As I said above, to me it seemed the challenges were not so great as to be impressive, nor do they require feats of bravery or cunning. But for my kids, it seems to be a satisfying amount of conflict, and they are finding the resolutions thus far believable.

Vinnie gauges this story to be most appropriate for a child between first and third grades. He’s quick to assure me that its holding his interest as well, though, appearing concerned that I may choose to stop reading it, and he’ll never find out the conclusion!

The second novel, Indigo, is the recounting of the events of the night a rainstorm came into the landlocked town of Oak Grove, a thing that had not happened in many, many years. The last storm was so devastating, and left the townsfolk so frightened, they spent the intervening years building an enormous concrete wall to block Penman’s Creek from ever overflowing its boundaries again.

Hydrophobia may be the town’s motto, but not all who live there are in agreement. For two unusual brothers, Trevor and Eli McGill, respectively known as “Trout” and “Eel,” nothing could be worse. Adopted during the elder McGill’s seashore vacation and brought to Oak Grove as infants, they have never managed to shed their affinity for the ocean, despite the impassable distance that separates them from it. Unhelpfully, their parents refuse to take them back to visit the ocean that haunts their memories, saying in response to their pleas, “If you knew what the ocean was like, you’d be grateful to live in a place as dry as Oak Grove.”

Trout and Eel disagree. With the help of their best friend Martha Glimmer, they plan a foray beyond the borders of all they know, to seek the truth of their heritage and find their place in the world. How this comes about is unexpected, and is a more appealing conclusion than I would have thought.

It turns out that these short novels are indeed of interest to children, and considering the cheers that meet our daily revisiting of these characters, I would have to recommend the book. Perhaps I would not encourage an adult to seek a fulfilling read here, but I can say for sure that my kids will be passing it on to friends of their own.

The author’s name caught my attention, and I was sure I’d seen it before. Sure enough, Alice Hoffman is a respected and prolific author of both children’s and adult literature. Other books of hers for kids include Fireflies, A Winter’s Tale, which has beautiful, soft-lit artwork, and Green Angel, a novel of darker content recommended for children ages 12 and over. She is also the author of Practical Magic, a novel that was turned into a Warner Studios film of the same name starring Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock.

(Scholastic, 2003)

Diverse Voices

Diverse Voices is our catch-all for writers and other staffers who did but a few reviews or other writings for us. They are credited at the beginning of the actual writing if we know who they are which we don't always. It also includes material by writers that first appeared in the Sleeping Hedgehog, our in-house newsletter for staff and readers here. Some material is drawn from Folk Tales, Mostly Folk and Roots & Branches, three other publications we've done.

More Posts