Mermaid picture books, in my mind, offer the most perfect escape into a world of beauty. They offer a refreshing dip into an imaginative place where anything is possible, where alternate universes thrive with cultures of their own. Luckily, we live in a time when mermaid picture books abound.
While I would like to think that society’s mermaid craze began with Disney’s The Little Mermaid, the truth is mermaids have been mesmerizing humans in every part of the world for thousands of years. Myths of merfolk, sightings, and fake exhibitions crop up throughout history and in various cultures.
We aren’t immune to their siren calls! My kids are as crazy as I am about mermaids. Here are our favorite mermaid picture books, voted as the most artful, fanciful, and captivating ones out there.
Sea Tiger by Victoria Turnbull
Unexpected characters and a multi-themed story: that’s what I love about this beautifully imagined tale about a merboy named Oscar and his best friend, the Sea Tiger. It’s not every day you follow around a lonely merboy and his imaginary friend who looks like a land animal.
Mermaids Most Amazing by Narelle Oliver
Where did myths of mermaids come from? Are they real? Someone has to answer these questions. Narelle Oliver does a wonderful job explaining how myths of mermaids appear in cultures throughout the world. She shares legends, sightings, and historical stories of fake mermaids that are fascinating for mermaid fans of all ages.
The Mermaid Atlas: Merfolk of the World by Anna Claybourne, illustrations by Miren Asiain Lora
Take a tour around the world as the author introduces you to mermaid folklore in places near and far. Do you know what mermaids in Fiji, Japan, and India are like? This mesmerizing title provides a wonderful multicultural lens on a topic that holds universal interest.
The Merbaby by Teresa Bateman and Patience Brewster
This morality tale is told with ample text, unlike the short picture books published today. Each page is realistically illustrated in watercolor with a hand-drawn aesthetic. Two brothers find a merbaby in their fishing net one day. One wants to sell it for profit while the other is faced with a moral dilemma, whether to make the fortune or return the merchild to her merfolk.
The Mermaid by Jan Brett
We came with high expectations to this story from Jan Brett, master artist and storyteller, and this picture book did not disappoint. The underwater world of Kiniro, a Japanese mermaid, is richly imagined. We loved how Jan Brett rewrote the Goldilocks story with an Asian character and an octopus family of three. My Asian American children delighted in seeing Kiniro’s long, black hair suspended in the water, and especially the spread where she is eating her breakfast of seaweed with chopsticks!
The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen and Lisbeth Zwerger
You cannot really understand the mesmerizing power of mermaids until you read Hans Christian Andersen’s original. And you cannot really understand our modern obsession, from Disney’s Ariel to the plethora of mermaid stories being produced today, without hailing back to the creative mind who made the biggest contribution to our collective mermaid lore. There are several picture book versions, but this one was chosen for its translation and its illustrations.
Pearl By Molly Idle
An original story about a young mermaid who is disappointed at first in the small charge her mother gives her. With time and persistent care of her single grain of sand, she sees her small bit of the world grow and expand until it shines on everyone everywhere. This picture book is a beautiful tale about the power of small actions.
Mermaid-Themed Picture Books by Diverse Authors
The Ocean Calls: A Haenyo Mermaid Story by Tina Cho and Jess X. Snow
While not technically a book about mermaids (it’s about Korean haenyeo divers), this picture book reveals the fascinating culture of Korean women who have been diving into the ocean for generations to gather treasures from the sea. These figures are certainly mermaid-like as they dive deep down and are the closest approximation to real-life mermaids as we can get. The illustrations are vibrant. Follow Dayeon, a young Korean girl, as she learns from her haenyeo grandmother how to find courage in the ocean.
Oona by Kelly DiPucchio and Raissa Figueroa (January 12, 2021)
This picture book stars a mischievous Black mermaid named Oona who gets into tricky scrapes with her best friend, Otto. Her adorable poof of awesome curly hair is a welcome change from the traditionally imagined mermaid. Beautifully illustrated, this humorous story follows the adventures of a young mermaid as she discovers that the best treasures aren’t found but made.
Captain Monty Takes the Plunge by Jennifer Mook-Sang and Liz Starin
You’ll find a non-conformist mermaid in this picture book. Her name is Meg, the only creature who can motivate Monty to do the unthinkable: take a bath. For this pirate who hates bathing and can’t swim, it’s nothing short of a miracle that he jumps into the dreaded ocean in order to save the mermaid whose life is put in peril.
Still want more mermaid books? Check out 12 Mermaid Books for Kids of All Ages.