Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 9 to 12
- Grade: 4 to 7
- Reading age: 9 to 12
Do you hear the distant drums? And what about that weird screaming …
Emma Blackwell used to love mermaids. Jonah Blackwell used to love pirates. And William Blackwell tried to be a good captain. Which he would be, if he could get his twin brother and sister to stop fighting long enough to sail their boat, the Peregrine, across the bay. But after the Blackwells see a phantom ship, barely survive a terrible storm, and then mysteriously wake up with seaweed in their mouths, everything changes.
They’re becalmed in fog. They run aground on a strange island. They hear distant drums, and their weird adventure begins! The Blackwells face zombie pirates, terrifying mermaids, and a shipwrecked group of cursed ship’s figureheads, including a Roman gladiator and an English knight, all led by the strange dolphin-boy, Finn.
It’ll make a great sea yarn one day, if they can just survive it.
About the author
Philippa Dowding is a children’s author, poet, musician and copywriter. She has won many industry awards and has had poetry and short fiction published in journals across North America. Her children’s books have been nominated for numerous literary awards in Canada and abroad, including the SYRCA Diamond Willow, OLA Silver Birch, OLA Red Maple, Hackmatack and White Raven awards. In 2017, Myles and the Monster Outside was an OLA Silver Birch Express Honour Book and her 2021 novel, Firefly, won a Governor General’s Literary Award in the Children’s Literature – Text category. Philippa Dowding currently lives in Toronto, Ontario.
Excerpt: Blackwells and the Briny Deep: Weird Stories Gone Wrong (by (author) Philippa Dowding)
This Part Is (Mostly) True …
You should know, before you even start this book, that it’s a little scary. And parts of it are even a bit weird and strange. I wish I could make the story less scary and strange, but this is the way I heard it, so I really have no choice.
It starts like this, (which by the way, is pretty much exactly how every sea story worth telling begins):
One summer evening a long time ago, two brothers were fishing by the sea. It was quiet, peaceful twilight. Not a breath stirred, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the water was still and calm. Candles were lit in homes that dotted the bay. The lights in the harbour shone, and the lighthouse would soon be lit, too, as darkness fell.
The fish weren’t biting, but that’s not really here nor there in this particular story.
But it does explain why the younger brother was daydreaming. He sat on the wooden dock and stared out at the peach and golden waves, as the sun sank upon them.
He closed his eyes and dreamed about mermaids and pirates, enchanted islands and sea adventures, and what it might be like to go to sea as a cabin boy (since this was in the days of such things). A seagull’s cry made him open his eyes …
… and there, on the horizon!
An enormous black ship!
It had NOT been there a moment before.
The sails were tattered and torn. Thin, ragged sailors ran along the deck. The sailboat heaved and bucked through gigantic waves. Crested plumes of spray flew from its bow.
Then, a curl of smoke. The ship was on FIRE!
The boy shielded his eyes, and stared. The fiery ship sailed full force into the teeth of a terrible storm …
… except there was no storm. The sea was calm, the sky was clear. But there it was. A burning ship, fighting a storm in high seas.
“LOOK! Out to sea!” The boy called to his older brother, who at that very moment hooked a fish, their first and only hope of dinner.
“Do you see it? A ship on FIRE!”
“Quiet! There’ll be no dinner if I don’t catch this fish!” the older brother snapped. His mother had told them not to come home empty-handed.
“But look! It’s a ship in distress!”
The giant ship leaned to one side. The flames spread quickly, soon the whole ship would be on fire …
It’s so close, but I can’t hear the men’s cries, the boy thought. And I don’t smell smoke!
The burning ship drew close to shore. A terrifying wooden figurehead stared from the bow: it was half woman, half sea monster!
The name of the ship was carved beside the figurehead: The Mermaid Queen.
“We have to call the men!” The boy grabbed his brother’s arm, and the fish jumped free of the hook.
“You made me lose dinner!” The older brother glared.
“But it’s right …”
When the younger brother turned back, the fiery ship was gone!
“But … where did it go? I’m telling you, it was right there! A ship on fire in a storm! Going down with all hands!” The older brother marched toward home. But the younger brother stared, rubbed his eyes, and scanned the horizon.
The Mermaid Queen had vanished.
Like it had never been there at all.
The only movement on the water was a dolphin. It leapt high into the air then dove beneath the waves.
Now a storm roiled on the horizon. In moments, big dark clouds filled the sky and rain lashed the houses, docks, and boats at anchor in the harbour.
The boy sat in the rain all night, looking out to sea. His mother couldn’t convince him to come in for soup (since his brother never did catch a fish) or for bed. She finally gave up and put a rain cape over her son’s shoulders.
He watched all night, until the storm blew away and mild dawn broke over the water. He watched until seagulls flew past to begin their day at sea. But The Mermaid Queen didn’t reappear. There was no flotsam — no wood, no sail cloth, nothing from a shipwreck — washed into shore the next day, either.
Finally the next morning, as the sun rose, an old sailor limped along the dock. He stopped in front of the waterlogged boy and balanced on his wooden leg (for this was in the days of such things, too).
“It was a phantom ship, son. A ghost ship. Destined to sail the seas, forever on fire and forever sinking, for all time. Those who see one at sea are in grave danger,” the sailor said. This particular sailor was full of strange sea stories about dolphins that turned into boys, sea spirits, enchanted islands, shipwreck graveyards, and so on.
Most people avoided him. Or thought he’d spent too much time alone at sea and gone a little odd. But after seeing the burning ship, the boy wasn’t so sure.
Time passed, and not surprisingly, perhaps, the boy never did go to sea. In fact, he became a respected lawyer. He stayed very comfortably on dry land into old age, which he spent among his many children and grandchildren.
He was definitely NOT given to telling stories (as a lawyer, that wouldn’t do). But on certain summer nights, when the sun was sinking just so, his family might find him staring out to sea and murmuring: The Mermaid Queen, The Mermaid Queen …
You don’t have to believe this story. But just because things are odd or a little strange or unbelievable doesn’t always make them untrue. Truth is an odd thing; one person’s truth can be another person’s lie. That’s the most important thing to remember about this story: sometimes things that seem like lies are actually true. And sometimes you never can tell.
That’s the spookiest thing of all.
Its fast pace, short chapters, accompanying illustrations, and simple use of language will also make it accessible to reluctant readers.
CM: Canadian Review of Materials
An adventure full of creatures both terrifying & wonderful... perfect for reading aloud in a family setting.
The Canadian Children's Book Centre
All-hands-on-deck for sea-faring fun complete with zombie pirates, a ghost ship, and screaming mermaids. I’ve loved this series from the beginning, and hope for more!
Monica Kulling, author of Mary Anning’s Curiosity
Other titles by Philippa Dowding
Weird Stories Gone Wrong 6-Book Bundle
Carter and the Curious Maze / Myles and the Monster Outside / Jake and the Giant Hand / and 3 others
Quinn and the Quiet, Quiet
Weird Stories Gone Wrong
Weird Stories Gone Wrong 5-Book Bundle
Carter and the Curious Maze / Myles and the Monster Outside / Jake and the Giant Hand / Alex and The Other / Blackwells and the Briny Deep
Alex and The Other
Weird Stories Gone Wrong
Everton Miles Is Stranger Than Me Classroom Activity Guide
Dundurn Teachers' Guide
The Night Flyer's Handbook 2-Book Bundle
The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden / Everton Miles Is Stranger Than Me
Everton Miles Is Stranger Than Me
The Night Flyer's Handbook