Book review: Is it a Mermaid? By Candy Gorlay and illustrated by Francesca Chessa.

Growing up in the Philippines author Candy Gourlay observed that books she read were not representative of the world around her. Books she loved only had fair skinned children and didn’t resemble her surroundings. Years passed and after much perseverance and hard work Candy Gourlay became a published author of successful novels for young children. Is it a Mermaid? is her first picture book and it is an absolute delight.

Is it a Mermaid?Candy Gourlay and illustrator Francesca Chessa have produced a diverse picture book, filled with tropical colours and cleverly informing readers about Dugongs, a species which is threatened with extinction.

 At the beginning of the story Benji and Bel discover a strange creature on the beach. They are aware that it is a dugong and Benji is particularly insistent on this, but the Dugong explains that she is  a mermaid.


Her very apparent Dugong features make it hard to accept who she is claiming to be however, Bel is supportive. Readers witness the Dugong and Bel having much fun but Benji still questions her identity. Things get too much and it results in the Dugong crying and Benji acknowledging that his forthright statements has led to upset.

The scenes that follow or one of playful, joyous moments of the three of  them having fun. The illustrations are absolutely beautiful and the tropical colours and blue tones flow so well through out the book.


I am thankful for Benji and Bel, who are utterly adorable but also not too dissimilar to how my daughters look. They too have brown skin and dark hair and as young as my eldest is (3 years old) she does take note of such things. “They have brown skin like me” she explained.


The book explores identity and exploration of emotions. It brings into question how we should be sensitive to peoples feelings and such themes running through the book make it a brilliant read to share in a learning setting.

The book also shares information about Dugongs not only cleverly included within the text of the story but also at the end of the book where facts are provided. However, Candy Gourlay always has her young readers in mind. Readers witness Benji and Bel being playful, inquisitive, kind, gentle and at the end of the book readers witness a little magic and wonder.

 The wordless page of the Dugong swimming away, with what looks like a mermaids tail I’m sure will have many readers questioning what they can see and adds a little fantasy element to the story. The wordless double page welcomes discussion and thought and invites readers to become storytellers.

So much love has gone in to the completion of this book and I think it is brilliant. Candy Gourlay and Francesca Chessa, you have a new fan right here!

Thank you so much to Otter Barry Books for sending this book. As always, all opinions and words are my own.  

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