NOTE TO TEACHERS
Under the Mermaid Angel is a story about friendship, family relationships, courage, secrets, and judging people by their appearance.
This novel invites students to explore these powerful themes and apply them to their own lives. The book also makes a strong statement about how one person might make a difference in the lives of many.
Teachers who are interested in using novel studies in other areas of the curriculum will find this book a perfect choice for connecting language arts, science, health, social studies, math, and art.
ABOUT THIS BOOK
A girl’s life is brushed by the magic of friendship in this funny, bittersweet novel.
Thirteen-year-old Jesse Cowan lives with her family in a trailer park in the small town of Ida, Texas. Her life is rather dull until Roxanne, a flamboyant 30-year-old waitress, moves into the trailer next door and the two develop an immediate friendship. Mrs. Cowan, however, is judgmental of Roxanne. She sees a woman with tattoos, long painted fingernails, and an oversized fur coat–not a woman who knows about love, friendship, and courage.
Meanwhile Jesse, who has never gotten over the death of her baby brother, struggles to define herself and resents having to take care of her younger brothers and sister.
Roxanne has experienced much tragedy in her life, but her ability to see the good in everyone influences Jesse and eventually leads the entire town on a mission of love.
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR
Martha Moore was born in Canyon, Texas, the small town in the Texas Panhandle where Georgia O’Keeffe once lived. She received a bachelor’s degree from West Texas State University and later a master’s degree in humanities from the University of Dallas. She has taught English for many years in the Texas public schools and currently teaches sophomore and senior English in the Arlington Independent School District. She lives with her husband and two sons in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Find pictures in magazines of various people, ranging from those who are conservatively dressed to rock stars. Give each student a picture and ask them to write a character analysis of the person. Discuss how appearances may be deceiving. How important is it to get to know a person before judging his or her character? Ask the class to debate whether our society places too much emphasis on appearances.
APPEARANCES–Jesse’s mother and others in Ida, Texas, judge Roxanne by her appearance. Ask students to describe Roxanne’s appearance. How is Mrs. Cowan wrong about Roxanne’s character? How does Roxanne influence Jesse’s character?
Debbie is also judged by her looks. How does she deal with the cruel comments made about her disfigured face? What does Debbie’s father teach her about appearances? How does Debbie make a difference in the lives of her schoolmates?
SECRETS–Roxanne says: “I don’t really believe in secrets. . . . They can fester up in you and cause all kinds of problems” (p. 63). If Roxanne really believes this, then why does she keep her secret concealed? What secret does Jesse have that “festers” inside her? How does Jesse finally come to terms with her secret?
FRIENDSHIP–When Jesse becomes friends with Roxanne, Jesse’s mother disapproves. What is it about Roxanne that makes Jesse want to be her friend? At what point does Mrs. Cowan change her mind about Roxanne? What does Roxanne mean when she says “Friendship is measured by heart-time, not clock-time” (p. 2)? Ask students to discuss how Roxanne befriends the entire town of Ida.
FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS–Ask students to describe Jesse’s relationship with each member of her family. Why does Jesse resent Doris Ray for tagging along when she visits Roxanne? Discuss how Jesse’s resentment of Doris Ray changes by the end of the story. What contributes to this change?
COURAGE–Roxanne says: “It takes a lot of courage to live in the present” (p. 129). Which characters show the most courage? How does Roxanne show courage by coming to Ida? Ask students to discuss whether Roxanne is being a coward or courageous when she leaves Ida without hugging her son.
LANGUAGE ARTS–Moore uses similes to create visual images that describe her characters. “Her long red hair flared out like a fire alarm” (p. 4) describes Roxanne’s appearance. “He blurted the words like they were darts he was throwing at a target” (p. 58) communicates Franklin’s actions. Ask students to select any character in the book and write a simile that best describes that character’s physical appearance or actions.
Debbie is the editor of The Icon, the newspaper at Eli Whitney School, and Jesse is on the staff. Ask students to write a feature story about Mr. Arthur’s party for the newspaper. Encourage them to include interviews with Jesse, Debbie, Franklin, and Mr. Arthur’s daughter. Some students may want to write a letter to the editor about Roxanne’s contribution to the party.
SCIENCE–Roxanne tells Jesse and Doris Ray that meteors are often called shooting stars. Ask students to research meteors. How are they formed? How often do they appear? When do they most often appear? Challenge them to find out the largest known meteorite and where it landed.
Ask students to research how one goes about naming a star for someone. Often people do this to honor a baby at birth, as a memorial to someone who has died, or to pay tribute to a special friend. Invite students to think about each character in the novel and to consider an appropriate name for a star in that character’s honor.
HEALTH–Mr. Arthur has Alzheimer’s disease. Send students to the library to research the early signs of Alzheimer’s and what happens as the disease progresses. The disease was first discovered in 1906 by German neurologist Alois Alzheimer. Ask students to discuss why a neurologist would be interested in the study of this disease. What are biomedical researchers doing today to find out more about Alzheimer’s? Ask students to discuss what Roxanne means when she says “With Alzheimer’s it’s not dying that’s so bad, it’s living” (p. 29).
SOCIAL STUDIES–Mr. Arthur has many different characters in his wax museum. One is Queen Elizabeth I. Her reign, known as “the Golden Age,” brought about many important achievements in England. Ask students to research how Elizabeth I changed England. What was her role with the Spanish Armada? Invite each student to select one person from twentieth-century America who they would most like to see in Mr. Arthur’s museum. Ask them to write a paragraph describing this person’s contribution to American society.
ART–Franklin makes sketches of people at Mr. Arthur’s party. Ask each student to submit a drawing of the party that might be appropriate for The Icon. Students may also enjoy creating a mural showing the exhibits at Mr. Arthur’s Wax Museum.
The vocabulary in Under the Mermaid Angel isn’t difficult, but students should consider words such as subversive (p. 45), facetious (p. 45), and mortified (p. 54). Ask students to define these words using the context of the story.
The new school newspaper is called The Icon, but icon is a word that is sometimes used to describe a person. How might Roxanne be considered an icon?
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
An ALA Notable Children’s Book
Winner of the Delacorte Press Prize for a First YA Novel
A New York Public Library 100 Title for Reading and Sharing
OTHER TITLES OF INTEREST
It’s Nothing to a Mountain
(Courage, Friendship, Secrets, Family Relationships)
Find a Stranger, Say Goodbye
(Courage, Secrets, Family Relationships)
Fly Like an Eagle
Barbara Beasley Murphy
(Courage, Secrets, Family Relationships)
Prepared by Pat Scales, Director of Library Services, the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, Greenville.