When Benji and Bel spot an unusual creature on the beach one morning, Benji knows exactly what it is: a dugong. The dugong, however, has a differing opinion.
Not only does the sassy sea mammal take umbrage with being called “it,” she also corrects Benji’s initial assumption. On a double-page spread showcasing her wide gray body, flippers, and short snout, she proclaims, “I am a beautiful mermaid!” Bel is quietly supportive, but when Benji continues to point out all her dugong parts and calls her a sea cow, his negativity finally penetrates, and she bursts into tears. “Benji felt terrible.” He realizes that his words have hurt the dugong and he apologizes. Luckily, though “mermaids are a bit sensitive,” they are also “very forgiving,” and the three spend the rest of the day frolicking in the sea with a host of whimsical and colorful sea animals. Young readers will enjoy inhabiting this tropical world infused with fanciful creatures (mermaid or not), and the message of respecting another’s chosen identities is both clear and gentle. Chessa’s illustrations depict little brown-skinned Benji and Bel with childlike exuberance, and a lovely spread at the end of the day highlights the tropical landscape, framing the dugong swimming off—or is that a mermaid’s tail?
This playful frolic in tropical waters is a gentle introduction to the concept of chosen identity and respect for others’ choices. (author’s note) (Picture book. 3-7)