Title: Harpoona: The Diary Of An Ugly Tuna

Author: Thelma Allen Watkins

Illustrator: Shawna Tenney

Publisher: Oxford Publishers

The soul of the story in Thelma Allen Watkins' debut children's book, Harpoona The Diary Of An Ugly Tuna pertains to a disfigured tuna by the name of Harpoona. This is a character that grows on you and even feels real. And what makes her memorable is the way she sees the world and interacts with it.

We discover that Harpoona experienced a terrible accident due to being caught by an angler's long and nasty hook. Sadly, this left her with a long massive facial scar that could not be concealed. She was bullied by her aunt Grudda and her twin cousins, Yolanda and Sheryl, and was often bearing the brunt of ridicule when everyone seemed to be staring and laughing at her. In addition, her mean-old aunt in whose home she resides along with her cousins forces her to clean up after them without permitting her any free time.

As the narrative unfolds, Watkins introduces another version of the Cinderella theme when one day a royal sentry, Sir Charles shows up on the door-steps of Harpoona's home with a royal subpoena from her Majesty, Queen Seraphina inviting her aunt, cousins and herself to the Aqua Marine Ball to dance with the handsome Prince.

Aunt Grudda immediately accepts the invitation but informs Harpoona that she will not be going to the ball and castigates her with the following words: “Have you lost all of your senses! You must be thinking in future tenses! Your clothes are nothing but horrible rags, wrinkles with holes and terrible snags.” Her cousins bully her and inform her that the ball will include people from the upper class and she just won't pass as she is an ugly tuna reminding her that her facial features resemble an “old babonn'a!”

After falling into a deep sleep, Harpoona dreams about that tragic event when she was caught up in the old angler's hook that cut severely into her upper nose and face. Suddenly waking up, Harpoona hears a strange noise which turns out to be a mermaid, Madame Jade. Jade tells Harpoona that she has come to visit her in this time of need and beckons her to sit down by her side. She advises her not to be deceived by what you see on the surface and there may be better days in store for her which will make her forget the past. What is more, Jade lets Harpoona know that “in all of her marine life she has served and helped all marine-kind in these waters, but no citizen sees me until she has suffered much.” She goes on to add that she wished she could help or grant Harpoona one wish, but all she can do is offer advice, whereupon she advises her to seek out Old Man Tortoise, an undersea doctor.

The story continues and Harpoona does find Old Man Tortoise who helps her hide her scar and encourages her to attend the ball, which she does, and at which point she meets the Prince who immediately falls in love with her. Watkins throws in a curve in the story when it is revealed that the Prince likewise has a secret.

How Watkins takes the beloved theme of Cinderella and makes it relevant today is the key to the effectiveness of this children's picture book. According to her, “the story will help add meaning as to why people respond to the way they do and it is her hope that as loving, responsible parents we can only hope and pray that our kids will learn how to move past these annoying and negative attitudes to a bright future of great hope and promise.”

Teachers can easily use this book to initiate conversations about its lessons which boil down to always being kind no matter what, be brave and take chances, don't let setbacks stop you, never stop dreaming and believe in yourself.

The bold eye-catching illustrations that accompany the text is impressive in its detail with a hint of grotesque in the animal characters, with their unusual exaggerated heads and faces. No doubt, these can be revisited time and again, and each time readers will discover something new. And even those children that may consider themselves too old for this book and perhaps not even art lovers will be captivated by Shawna Tenney's art work, which adds to the enticement to pick up the book.

Follow Here To Read Norm's Interview With Thelma Allen Watkins