Ever since I started working for the library service and looking in depth at LGBTQ+ children’s literature, (thanks to colleague, Dr Liz Chapman), I have been searching, and wanting, more children’s picture books with incidental LGBTQ+ representation. Characters in same sex relationships, who’s genders and relationships are represented but not necessarily at the forefront of the story as an “issue”. And finally, after 17 years, I’ve discovered two in as many months! This is exciting, and important. This is Nen and the Lonely Fisherman, written by Ian Eagleton, illustrated by James Mayhew and published by Owlet Press.
It’s the start of the new school term as I write this, and so this blog tour is here to review this gorgeous new book and give some examples of how it could be used in the classroom.
Nen and the Lonely Fisherman is just a lovely, magical story of love, and understanding and acceptance. It tells the story of Nen a Merman, who loves his underwater home, yet longs for something more. So each night he sings a song of hope and wanting which drifts across the ocean. On dry land, we meet Ernest, a young fisherman, who lives a solitary and lonely life. He also wishes more, and one night while out on his boat he hears Nen’s song. The two meet and a bond is formed, one of love and friendship and companionship. However, Nen’s Father is furious at the relationship as he believes all humans are destroying their ocean home, so he sets out to break the two apart! This book of twists and turns and ultimately a story of true love will warm your heart and make you smile.
The two male lovers in this book are incidental, it’s not stated, or an issue in this book, it just is. We need more books like this. More books to show children that gender does not matter when it comes to love, it doesn’t matter full stop. So why is this important? For children with same sex parents, for example, this is showing them, and the rest of the world, that in the books they read, their lives matter and are fully represented as normality. For those children who may not have yet come across the idea of same sex relationships, this will show them that it is a part of life, that it’s normal and wonderful like any kind of love. To always see as certain aspect of our lives represented as an issue or a problem, can create that thinking in young children that this is not normal, that to be LBTQ+ will always cause family rifts, or bullying or sadness. We know this can happen of course, we’d be naive to think it doesn’t. But not always, and the more we represent same sex relationships in books, the more we can open people’s minds, and show young children every facet of wonderful, varied, human life and love. That’s what this book achieves so beautifully.
This story is written beautifully, it has a real fond familiarity to it, like the old fairytales we know and love, but with a modern twist making it feel fresh and new and a tale for our time! It’s written with a gentleness that reflects the storyline. It just one of those lovely stories that makes you feel happy, yet has a really important role to play in the picture book world.
James Mayhew’s illustrations are absolutely the ideal choice for this story. They have a soft hand drawn style, and are oh so expressive and beautifully convey the sadness and then the love that emanates from both characters. The music represented by a rainbow is such a lovely touch, and hint of the Pride rainbow.
There is no question that Nen and the Lonely Fisherman is a book that belongs in every classroom and library. It is LGBTQ+ representation at its finest, but it’s actually just a beautiful story of understanding, acceptance, loneliness, friendship, parenthood and of course … love!
In The Classroom
- Like all picture books, there is so much you can do with a story like this in the classroom. In Art for young children they could draw a merman and decorate his tail. A brilliant way to break down those gender stereotypes that often begin at a young age. Add glitter, paint him pink, paint him blue, give him bows or armour, have the freedom to create and imagine the most wonderful being.
- In Music, children could think about the song Nen was singing, how would it sound? Soft and gentle, or wild and passionate? Which instruments would represent his song best. Did it have words? Children could write the lyrics to his song, the perfect crossover with English.
- Talking of English, children could continue this story. What happens in the future to Nen and Ernest? Does their relationship continue, do they travel together, have a family? Maybe they are separated, or encounter more troubles along their path? Stories we read are just the start. Humans, and particularly children, are gifted with our imaginations, the ability to explore ideas and feelings and adventures in so many different directions. Perhaps re-write the story, what would have happened to these two men had Pelagios succeeded in his aims to keep them apart? The tale could be retold through poetry, re-writing a story in a different format is a great way to really understand the feelings and emotions behind it.
- The options for general discussion is one of the joys of this story. There’s so much to consider in terms of empathy, storytelling, relationships. Here are just a few of the questions I came up with to begin these discussions:
– What do you think Ernest’s young life might have been like?
– Why do you think he so lonely?
– What kind of person is Ernest? (kind, gentle, shy, humble)
– What kind of character does Nen have? (Passionate, adventurous, open minded)
– Why did Pelagios act the way he did towards Ernest?
– Can you see from the illustration how the humans were ruining – the ocean? (pollution, fishing, noise & disturbance, littering)
– Do you think Pelagios was fair?
– Why do you think Pelagios changed his mind about Ernest?
– What do you think Nen’s song might have sounded like?
– What emotions can you see or feel in this story? (sadness, longing, fear, anger, fun, happiness, love)
This book has a multitude of options in the classroom, I’ve only briefly touched on a few starting points to get children examining the story more closely, to embrace the openness and diversity within this story and really delve into the emotions covered. Fundamentally, this book is a rocking read for empathy choice!
Nen and the Lonely Fisherman is out now and available from all good bookshops and libraries. I encourage you to support your local indie bookshops and order from there. You can also support my blog and your local bookshop at the same time by ordering a copy through my Bookshop.org affiliate link. (thank you).
I purchased this copy for myself and to offer my personal review. Thank you for reading this Book Monster blog.