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by Cynthia Heinrichs
Illustrated by Jumin Lee
AGES: 4 to 8
SIZE: 8.5 x 10.5
PRICES: $16.95 US | $18.95 CAN
HARDCOVER: 978-1-897476-37-6

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This lovely picture book relates the story of the haenyo, or "sea women", the
strong, independent women of Jeju Island, South Korea who dive for seaweed,
shellfish, and other creatures that live on the bottom of the ocean. the story
is told through the eyes of a young girl, Jae Nyun, who attends school each day
while her mother, a "mermaid" dives all day long to support her family. Although
her mother insists the women are not mermaids Jae Hyun fantasises about their
lives under the sea. The mermaids, she imagines, visit their father, the Sea
King, and her grandmother is married to the Sea King. Despite the dangers Jae
Hyun wants to become a mermaid even though her mother wants a better, safer
life for her daughter. When tragedy strikes, Jae Hyun's courage is tested, but
she proves she is worthy of the family tradition of becoming haenyo.

Jumin Lee illustrations complement this touching story of tradition and
modernity, where girls and women have the freedom to choose the lives they want
for themselves.

Thematic Links: South Kores; Ocean Diving; Mermaids

Kristine Moruzi


Times Colonist - Notable Picture Books for Fall 

In this South Korean story, a young girl called Jae Hyun dreams of being a “haenyo” or “mermaid” like her mother and grandmother, who dive to the ocean floor to collect seaweed, abalone, octopus, sea urchin and all kinds of shellfish. Her mother adamantly opposes the idea, because the work is dangerous, but then something happens that changes everything. Heinrichs, who is from Vancouver, includes extra information about the history of the haenyo of South Korea’s Jeju Island, who are dying out. Lee’s illustrations are pretty, pastel watercolour and ink drawings.


Winnipeg Free Press

Demonstrating her flexibility, Heinrichs, a former Winnipegger living in Vancouver, has also released a picture book, Mermaids (Simply Read, 32 pages, $19), which features both an unusual setting and story. In South Korea on the island of Jeju, women dive daily to the ocean floor to harvest seaweed and edible sea creatures.
Known as haenyo, they belong to an old but dangerous profession that six-year-old Jae Hyun longs to join. Although her mother envisions a different future, her mind is changed when Jae Hyun proves she can keep a clear head in an emergency.


CM Magazine Review:

Although Jae Hyun`s mother has forbidden her daughter to follow the old ways and become a haenyo in their South Korean island, Jae Hyun dreams of nothing else. Ignoring the daily dangers of sharks and jellyfish the female divers face, she prefers the nickname Mermaids and concocts a fanciful story about their origin. But she is forced to confront reality when, from her usual hiding place on shore, she discovers her grandmother has been stung by a jellyfish underwater and is drowning. Quickly cycling to a nearby house, Jae Hyun obtains help and saves her grandmother`s life. This action earns her mother`s respect and the right to choose her own destiny, even if it is to be a haenyo.

internal art      Cynthia Heinrichs has composed this modern-day story around a disappearing way of life in South Korea where she was an English teacher. Her author`s note describes how the haenyo of Jeju Island have traditionally supported their families with their harvest from the sea and how they still do so today to provide education and better lives for their daughters. But very few younger women are choosing to become haenyo and, with more than half those left over seventy, the Korean Mermaid profession is now facing extinction.

      Artist Jumin Lee has imbued the landscapes with soft, muted shades that evoke the dreamy, underwater world of Jae Hyun`s imagination. Born in South Korea, Lee portrays the sea king`s castle as a layered pavilion and the king, himself, as a Korean folkloric figure. That modern and old ways coexist today in South Korea is made evident in her depiction of the different styles of dress the young people and professionals wear compared to that of the older generation.

      This gentle story reveals a culture and a way of life that is foreign to most Canadians, but the universal appeal of inter-generational love, courage and the power of dreams will ensure a ready audience. Canadians are no strangers to the dangers of eking a living from the sea and, especially on the east coast where we have witnessed the loss of our traditional seafaring way of life, this story will resonate.