As an underwater Wizard of Oz, writer Amy Chu and illustrator Janet K. Lee’s new graphic novel, Sea Sirens, adds a modern twist to a classic tale. Inspired by L. Frank Baum’s The Sea Fairies, as well as Vietnamese folktales, the co-creators take readers on a fantastical adventure that unfolds within the ocean’s depths.

The story begins ordinarily enough as Trot, a headstrong Vietnamese-American girl enjoys a day of surfing with her one-eyed cat, Cap’n Bill, as her grandfather looks on. After her grandfather becomes confused and wanders off, Trot’s mother decides it is best for the trio to stay home while she is away at work. This does not stop Trot for long, as she soon sneaks back to the seaside with her cantankerous cat in tow. After a huge wave plunges them deep into the ocean, the two enter a magical world filled with kings and queens, extravagant feasts, dangerous wars and a colorful cast of characters led by sirens and their serpentine foes. Trot and Cap’n Bill soon become entangled in this wondrous kingdom, however the big question remains: will they ever be able to find their way back home?

Key in bringing this vivid oceanic world to life are the illustrations, which fill the pages with vibrant hues of blue, red, and orange. Fine lines, including a unique approach to shading faces, provide a breathtaking display that is both lively and engaging. Lee’s line work also provides contrast to the softness of the large swathes of watercolor, enhancing the visual aspects of this sensorial tale.

The only issue I have with the illustrations is a lack of character continuity from frame to frame, which becomes distracting at times. For example, Trot’s age and overall appearance are hard to grasp because of the inconsistencies in her face shape, physical features, and hair. On the other hand, Lee clearly excels at depicting animals and landscapes, which captivated me from page to detailed page.

Overall, I rate this book highly. It tackles tough issues like dealing with Alzheimer’s and growing up in a single-parent home. It also is refreshing to see a Vietnamese-American girl as the protagonist backed up by an ethnically diverse cast of characters. The cultural richness of the book also shines, with the inclusion of the Vietnamese language and flashbacks to grandfather’s life in Vietnam. In addition, the book is just plain fun, emphasizing the importance of family, friendship, and communication. With an open ending, I look forward to more adventures to come.

This book would work well as a read aloud for younger children or as an independent read for the middle grades.

Sea Sirens A Trot & Bill Adventure
By Amy Chu
Art by Janet Lee
ISBN: 9780451480163
Viking, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

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Character Traits: Vietnamese

  • Johanna

    Past Reviewer

    This reviewer is not longer actively working on our site, but we would not be here if not for our many dedicated contributors over the years. We thank all of them for their reviews, features, and support! Johanna Nelson is a full-time graduate student pursuing her MLIS at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Through her studies, she discovered a love for the graphic novel format thanks to the likes of Raina Telgemeier and Art Spiegelman. While the two may seem like opposite ends of the spectrum, both masterfully combine narrative and picture to create a compelling, rich story greater than the parts alone. As an aspiring school librarian, who will soon be on the path to teacher greatness through dual certification in education and library media specialization, Johanna also loves to explore the seemingly endless possibilities graphic novels hold when it comes to teaching and building literacy skills, helping English language learners, reaching out to reluctant readers and matching each and every kiddo with just the right book thanks to the wide range of subject matter available in this format. Prior to leading the “glamorous” life of a toiling student, Johanna served as features editor for a cheese and dairy trade newspaper that helped to cultivate her writing skills as well as her love for deliciously unique artisan cheeses – triple cream anyone? She also has held several library positions including page and library specialist in the children’s department of a public library. In her free time, she enjoys embracing her inner nerd through watching Jeopardy!, doing crossword and jigsaw puzzles, bird watching, hiking, sketching, and of course, reading whatever she can get her hands on.

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