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The Mermaid's Purse - Gillian Brownson

Updated: Jun 18, 2021

When I was first asked to read and share this piece, it was with a 'but it's for children' and an 'I'm not sure I want you to really', but none-the-less my phone pinged with a message containing the link - and I am so grateful!

Firstly, I would just like to point out that this poem is not for children - it is for everyone! For the adults living in coastal towns who have become complacent, for the children being brought up on beaches that will be the future champions of the environment, for the older generations full of memories of a cleaner countryside, for parents, teachers, and old and young alike! No-one should miss out on this hidden gem, but not just because the message is an important one. Gillian Brownson has a wonderful skill for sharing her image of the world, made even more endearing by the beautiful introduction on her webpage (link below) that gives us a snap shot of her upbringing - one that is clearly a strong influence on her work and why it works so well. Her writing style is a breath of fresh air and wonderfully engaging.

It took a few clicks to get there, but once I found the poem itself I was blown away by the beautiful artistry in the illustrations alone, so I had high expectations for the poem itself. As I regularly point out, I am not a reviewer; my aim here is to share my reading experience. And what an experience it was! I laughed, I reminisced, I came close to tears and I got angry, finally I felt like it was a call to arms in a war against ourselves!

The poem reads like a tale, so that's how I'll treat it with a tiny synopsis (I don't want to give too much away and risk ruining your reading experience): The poem follows 'Salty Tom' on his mission to find out where the beach pollution is coming from; with stanzas that highlight how bad the pollution has become, the consequences for Tom's poor dog, and a message for how we can move forward to resolve this issue. Thankfully for Tom, he has a mythical ally, while we the reader are encouraged to go out and find other 'humans' who care.

Children of all ages will appreciate this wonderful poem for the well-chosen rhyme and meter which makes it read like a song (not an accident I would think, mermaid song springs to mind), while adults will especially appreciate the flow and humour. The story that drives the message behind the poem is enchanting but also has truth, which in my opinion is why it works so perfectly. The mix of fact and fiction isn't preachy, it isn't over the top and it is believable. And while it was written for 'Ports Past and Present' with an obvious agenda in mind, it is written so wonderfully that it could stand on it's own merit as a book amongst the Julia Donaldson's and Jill Murphy's on the bookstore shelves.

This is a poem to be shared, to be read to and by children, to be published on a grand scale, and to be memorised through constant repetition - not only for it's extremely important message, but because it truly is a wonderful piece of poetry.

image courtesy of

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