When the Toppling family of Cornwall, England, are informed that their father will probably not return from his hazardous Arctic exploratory mission, they reluctantly move to Brighton. Here their mother starts a boarding house, and here the younger Topplings find a magic shell hidden in an old dresser drawer. The shell's chief property is that it can summon a mermaid, who, somewhat crossly grants wishes to its possessors. Wish follows unselfish wish until finally the lost parent is returned to the Topplings, and the Topplings to their Cornwall home. Despite the references to television and movie magazines, this fantasy of the British nursery genre has much in common with its older literary cousins, and comes replete with the savory smells of afternoon tea, a brood of pink cheeked children, and the brisk combination of the fanciful and laconic which makes British children's books particularly tasteful and refreshing.