6 Black Mermaids Books To Read With Your Kids

Halle Bailey's Ariel isn't the first Black 'Little Mermaid.' Read these stories to introduce your family to more Black mermaid lore.

Little girl reading a mermaid book in a fort
Photo: Getty Images

Disney's recent release of The Little Mermaid live-action trailer rehashed some of the same mixed feelings about the casting choices as it did when it was announced back in 2019. The trailer shows Ariel being played by American singer and actress Halle Bailey, a Black woman. On the one hand, some viewers are elated to see Disney's stance on diversity and representation. Parents have posted videos of their daughters' reactions to seeing Ariel look like them. Other viewers aren't so fond of the change and have voiced their disapproval through hateful commentary.

This film will most likely be Black children's introduction to mermaids. But it certainly should not be the only example, as there are several stories out there that center Black mermaids. "I really want people to know that African diasporic peoples have our own mermaid stories and traditions that far precede this movie," says Dr. Jalondra A. Davis, writer, scholar, and mermaid enthusiast who researches African diasporic mermaid lore. "I want to see Black stories by Black creators featuring Black-oriented mermaid lore getting the resources and visibility they deserve."

Dr. Davis teaches literature at the University of California, Riverside, has published many essays on mermaids and is working on a scholarly book, Merfolk and Black Being in Water. Here are six books she recommends by Black authors featuring Black mermaids to help parents introduce their kids to fantasy while also embracing Black history and culture.

Books for Early Readers

Kareemah and the Black Mermaids by Julia Mallory


Kareemah encounters three Black mermaids and wonders if Black Mermaids are real. This story is told through poetic prose and engages the imagination of young readers by reimagining the mythology surrounding mermaids. It depicts the "crossing merfolk" narrative, the idea that African people who jumped off the slave ship or were cast overboard during the Middle Passage became water-dwelling beings.

The Little Mermaid by Jerry Pinkney


Caldecott medalist and bestselling artist Jerry Pinkney reimagines this classic as a story of friendship and family. Filled with vibrant illustrations, this is a great book for kids to read alongside seeing The Little Mermaid live-action film in 2023. Public reviews say The Little Mermaid makes a perfect gift because it is a well-written, phenomenal book that is a good read for all ages and has beautiful artwork.

Books for Middle-Grade Readers

Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes


Bayou Magic is a coming-of-age story about a little girl who meets a mermaid when visiting her grandmother's Bayou community. This story highlights Southern folklore, friendship, family, and explores environmental justice themes. Public reviews say the diversity of characters, young protagonist, and themes of love and faith make this a relatable read for young readers.

Josephine Against the Sea by Shakirah Bourne


Josephine is a mischievous girl who lives in Barbados. This story follows her adventures on the island and is inspired by Caribbean mythology. Ganeesha, an Amazon customer who left a 5-star review of the book, says, "this was everything I didn't know I needed in a novel. It was exciting, adventurous, suspenseful...all the things I love about [Young Adult] series like Percy Jackson or Harry Potter but it was full of all the folklore and superstitions that I knew as a child growing up in the Caribbean. I will be reading this for my daughter as her bedtime story for the rest of the month."

Books Parents Should Read to the Whole Family

Her Stories: African American Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales: African American Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales by Virginia Hamilton


The author, Virginia Hamilton describes Her Stories as "a spirited celebration of our strength, our dreams, and the precious gift of life and love from generation to generation" that is dedicated to our mothers and grandmothers, aunts and great-aunts. This collection of 19 stories highlights magical lore and includes stories about mermaids. According to Dr. Davis, folktales are best read aloud. Parents should keep that in mind when introducing the stories to the family. Public reviews enjoy that these stories can be shared by each generation.

Mami Wata by Leila Vrhel


Mami Wata is a folktale about a Seychelloise girl named Yara who sets out to find her mother, a water spirit. While on her journey, she finds her mother and rescues her people from slavery. Public reviews note that Mami Wata was full of themes like suspense, hope, and triumph. Dr. Davis thinks more people should know about indie books like Mami Wata.

Jennifer Vassel is the author, and founder of I Am Unique!, a children's media brand that inspires kids (and adults) to overcome their insecurities so they can share their unique gifts with the world. Her work promotes the importance of diversity and representation, engaging parents and children worldwide.

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