A Dozen Books on African Mythology: The Significance of Black Mermaids and Sirens
By Desiree Cueto and Dorea Kleker, The University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
African diaspora folklore, myths and legends have been passed down through oral traditions from generation to generation. A prominent figure in stories told across different African nations is that of the mermaid. The half human/half fish water spirit is referred to by different names depending on the specific African nation and unique cultures within. For example, Mami Wata is a deity whose story is told throughout different parts of West Africa. She is known for bestowing wealth and power as well as destruction. A similar figure, called Yemoja is known to the Yoruba people of Nigeria to be a giver of life, and La Sirene is a Haitian spirit of the sea. Over time, the oral stories of mermaids and sirens have been written and published throughout the world and have become the inspiration for several recent picture books and novels. This set of books features twelve books that center on Black mermaids and African mythology.
The Mermaid of the Black Conch by Monique Roffey 9780593534205, Penguin Random House, 2022.
This magical realism novel follows the romance between a cursed mythical mermaid and a lonely fisherman, touching on themes of feminism and colonialism from a Black perspective.
Skin of the Sea by Natasha Bowen, 9780593120972, Penguin Random House, 2021.
The first novel in this YA fantasy series draws upon West African history and folklore imagined through the lens of those uprooted by slavery.
Sukey and the Mermaid by Robert D. San Souci & Brian Pinkney (il.), 9780689807183, Aladdin, 1996.
The luminous illustrations in this fairytale draw upon Geechie/Gullah traditions of South Carolina to depict a young girl’s encounter with a mermaid who provides her with a magical escape.
Mary Belle and the Mermaid from Her Stories: African American Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales by Virginia Hamilton & Leo & Diane Dillon (ils.), 9780590473705, Blue Sky Press, 1995.
After Mary Belle’s mother dies, a mermaid provides her with an underwater escape from her evil stepmother and step-sisters.
Mother of the Sea by Zetta Elliot, 9781544263854, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017.
This YA novelette draws upon Yoruba folklore as a teenage girl finds herself on a slave ship across the Atlantic with a mysterious small child in her care.
The Rise of the Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste, 9781616205928, Algonquin Young Readers, 2016.
The second novel in this middle grade series (The Jumbies) follows a young girl who travels with mermaids in an attempt to save her Caribbean island home.
The Deep by Rivers Solomon, 9781534439863, Saga, 2019.
This is a YA fantasy novella about the descendants of enslaved African Women who created a life in the deep after their foremothers were expelled from slave ships.
Julian Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love, 9780763690458, Candlewick, 2018.
After seeing three women in beautiful dresses, Julián is inspired to dress up as the most beautiful mermaid, celebrating the beauty inside.
Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow, 9781250315328, Tor 2020.
A YA fantasy that melds African mermaid/siren stories with commentary on current-day antiblackness.
A Chorus Rises: A Song Below Water Novel by Bethany C. Morrow, 9781250316042, Tor, 2022.
In her second book, Morrow continues to meld the mythic stories of the Black siren with harsh realities confronted by Black people in our current day.
Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes, 9780316224840, Little, Brown, 2015.
In this middle grade fantasy, Parker Rhodes draws on the African deity, Mami Wata, who traveled with slaves to keep them safe, as a young girl wonders if she has seen a mermaid.
Mami Wata: Africa’s Ancient God/dess Unveiled by Mama Zogbé, 9780615179360, Mami Wata Healers Society, 2007.
This nonfiction book provides teachers with information about the African deity, Mami Wata, from whom many African mermaid stories are based.
WOW Dozen features a list of 12 global books for children and adolescents around a theme, topic, issue or personal favorites. Each Dozen consists of ten newly-published titles with two older “must have” books. Please share or recommend additional books that fit the theme in the comments section or on social media using #WOWDozen. Use the printer icon in the upper left corner of this post to print or save this list as a PDF.
One thought on “A Dozen Books on African Mythology: The Significance of Black Mermaids and Sirens”
Love this list of books! I have to purchase “A Chorus Rises…” – it looks amazing and will fit into so many other themes. Can’t wait to read it.