Review of The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story

The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story
by Tina Cho; illus. by Jess X. Snow
Primary    Kokila/Penguin    48 pp.    g
8/20    978-1-9848-1486-9    $17.99

Young Korean girl Dayeon admires her diver grandmother (“You are like a treasure-hunting mermaid”) and wants to be like her. Grandma is a haenyeo, one of many elderly women who, as the afterword explains, wear a lead belt, flippers, and a mask to dive deep into the sea and collect treasures that can be sold, saved, or eaten. Dayeon has tried to dive, but after a scary experience the previous summer, she is hesitant. Dressed for the sea, she explores the tide pool, collecting shells and splashing her flippers, then slowly builds up the courage to wade a bit further into the water and finally to dive deep with Grandma. This sweet story of a girl overcoming her fear to experience something wondrous and share in an inherited tradition also offers a slice of life that will be new and fascinating to many readers. Cho’s text is accessible and informative. Snow’s illustrations carry Dayeon from morning through sunset with cozy home scenes, busy beach and boat scenes, and immersive underwater views; light, shadow, and color evoke all the sensations of the divers’ experiences. Details about the ­haenyeo tradition and history shared in the afterword, including quotes from real-life women in their seventies and eighties, show the depth of the community and family relationships so beautifully portrayed in the story.

From the July/August 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Autumn Allen
Autumn Allen

Autumn Allen is an educator, writer, critic and independent scholar of children's and young adult literature. She holds an MA-MFA in children's literature and writing for children from Simmons University, and a master's degree in education from Harvard University. She is the 2020-2021 Writer in Residence at the Boston Public Library.

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