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Fin-tastic fun for the younger set

The raucous colors and sights of Coney Island’s famed Mermaid Parade come to life for young readers in a new picture book, Mermaids on Parade.

The slender volume, written by Melanie Hope Greenberg, and published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons ($16.99), is geared to preschoolers who will be enchanted by the kinetic imagery that radiates from page after page featuring not just Coney Island’s annual celebration of its history, but the neighborhood itself, with all its honky-tonk charm.

The story is a simple one. A five-year-old, marching in the parade as “Shy Mermaid Coming Out of Her Shell,” wins the title of Best Little Mermaid. On the way, she hobnobs with a bevy of other mermaids, as well as other mythological sea creatures as they wend their way through the fabled amusement area.

Brooklynite Greenberg makes the tale sing. While the still gritty urban environment is evoked with illustrations incorporating subway trains, trash cans and police lines, the sherbet-hued illustrations pulsate with the rhythms of the rides.

The Wonder Wheel, the Astrotower and the Cyclone are among those that make guest appearances in the volume as the participants in the parade – which is the inheritor of the Mardi Gras held in the first half of the 20th century -- take to the boardwalk, smile for the myriad cameras and dance, as the story shifts between the diverse realms of fantasy and reality.

“I marched with mermaids, Neptunes and sea creatures today,” the book concludes. “Tomorrow, the magical creatures will all be gone. Whether they return to the sea or just return to their neighborhoods until next year, I have my trophy to remember them always.”

My kids grew up savoring go-rounds on the Wonder Wheel and the various kiddie rides, eagerly waiting to be tall enough to graduate to the Cyclone; this book would have been manna for them, repeatedly poring over its pages as they waited for the seaside resort to open for the season.

Like us, many Brooklynites have Coney Island in their souls; for them, and for their children, for whom the sound of the surf and the smell of the salt will forever evoke the “once and future king” of seaside resorts, Mermaids on Parade is an instant classic.

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