animals, black lives, fantasy, save the planet

Spotlight: Oona & Fish

Oona: The Brave Little Mermaid (Katherine Tegen Books)
Written by Kelly DiPucchio
Illustrated by Raissa Figueroa

For ages: 4-8
Oona is a young Black mermaid who adores the treasures she finds at the bottom of the ocean. To the people above, these are items tossed overboard or lost in a shipwreck. But Oona and her otter Otto love treasure hunting and curating these objects. There’s one object, though, that is proving too hard to get. Deep in the ocean is a jeweled crown wedged into a rift. Try as she might, Oona can’t unstick it. An accident causes Oona to forget about the crown for a time, she pursues other things, but none of them give her that feeling of joy she used to have. But then she remembers and knows how to finally get her crown.

This is a gorgeously illustrated book. Raissa Figueroa gives us a beautiful Oona with her enormous Afro and striped tail. I see people excited about the new Disney live-action Little Mermaid, but Oona will remain my favorite. You may think picture books cannot deliver layered, nuanced characters, but Oona proves us wrong. She is one of the most delightful protagonists I’ve read about in years. She teaches the reader that persistence is the key and that valuing yourself is paramount.


1. We all deserve a beautiful crown, just like Oona. Have your students draw or (if they are up to the challenge) construct their crown. If they can use repurposed materials, that’s even better!

2. Have students write about something they own that was repurposed. This could be a hand-me-down, something bought at a yard sale or thrift shop, or a thing they found. Have them explain why this object means so much to them and how they care for it.

3. I want to know what happens next! Having students write the next story for Oona would be great fun. Take them through brainstorming as a group, listing out future adventures the character could have. Then back to their desks to get those beautiful ideas onto paper so they can share them later!

Fish (DK Children)
Written & Illustrated by Brendan Kearney

For ages: 4-8
Finn is a fisherman, and he loves his job. He and his dog Skip will get up before the rest of his village has woken up and row themselves out into the ocean, casting his line and waiting for the first bite. But today, things are different. Nothing is biting anymore, and all Finn brings up is trash. He and Skip go home without anything to eat, and Finn is confused. Finally, Finn realizes the fish will return once the trash is dealt with. So he finds a creative way to use this discarded material to help his community. 

This is an excellent early book introducing ideas about protecting children’s environment. The illustrations are bright and colorful. The story is written in a way that will engage all kids and keep them interested as Finn & Skip solve a big problem that hurts their ability to feed themselves. The trash is detailed, and you can see how much work has been put into this book by author Brendan Kearney. With every day that passes, the environmental collapse of our planet becomes more urgent, and we’re currently headed to the point of no return (if we haven’t passed it already). Our children need to know the truth of what our ancestors and we have done to this world if we ever hope to repair the harm.


1. A good writing activity would be to have students journal about ways to keep the ocean clean once the trash is removed. What are practices they could be employing in their lives every day to help with that?

2. Have a class project where students work together to repurpose classroom trash. Don’t toss the paper away; store it. Do the same with broken pencils, water bottles (washed out, of course), and other things that might get tossed. Then have groups of students go through this refuse in the second of the year to make something functional or just beautiful. 

3. One of the best things you can do after reading a book like this is to start and continue a regular program at your school for community clean-ups. The goal isn’t to fix every problem but to get people involved. When we organize, we can change things, and we need people organized to fix what’s happening to our planet.

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