We’re thrilled to welcome B. Guerriero into The Reading Realm today to talk about how they have been using Nen and the Lonely Fisherman in class and to share with us some of their children’s responses to the book!
Nen and The Lonely Fisherman is a gorgeous picture book written by Ian Eagleton and illustrated by James Mayhew. It is the tender story of the connection between Nen, a merman living in the sea with his father, and Earnest, a local fisherman who is concerned about the future of the sea and all of its inhabitants.
Although Nen and Ernest come from completely different worlds, they have much in common. They both love the sea and care deeply about it and they have both experienced a feeling of loneliness and emptiness.
My Y4 class loved the story and empathised with Nen and Ernest’s feelings towards water pollution and the negative impact that humans have on the sea.
‘This is my favourite story yet. I would read this 10000 times. Thank you for letting us read it!’
‘I love the setting of the story because I like the sinking ship and the fish swimming around. My favourite part is when Nen is hoping and singing across the ocean.’ said another child.
When I shared the cover of the book with them, before reading the story, the children were excited about the story being set in the sea as they were expecting a romance between a mermaid and a fisherman. It was interesting to witness their excitement grow after we discussed the meaning of ‘merman’, how a merman could be different from a mermaid, and their realisation that the story wasn’t going to be what they expected. We discussed the fact that all the characters are male and that Nen, the protagonist, also happens to be black. We pointed out that we do not often see a black main character, and even more rarely see a black main character who is also a merman.
‘Everyone matters.’ said one of my Y4 children, ‘It does not matter if you are a man, you can be a mermaid. It doesn’t matter if you are black, you can always be a mermaid. It doesn’t matter if you are brown, you can always be a merman.’
As Ian and James pointed out in their episode in the podcast Pride & Progress, the close up on Nen and Ernest staring into each other’s eyes on the shore reveals that there might be more than friendship in that gaze. I was proud to witness my students’ reaction to that beautiful double page spread: relief that Nen saved Ernest and joy for the characters to be reunited.
‘I like it because it is a love story at the end and [is] emotional and lovely and sad.’
‘I like that at the end Nen finds his true love, Ernest, and he turns gay which I support, because it does not matter who you are, it matters if people love you or support you.’
Nen and The Lonely Fisherman is a beautiful celebration of love, positive representation of LGBTQ+ lives and positive masculinity.
In the words of my student: ‘Thank you for letting us be [the first] kids in the world to read this amazing book.