Sailor Twain

Sailor TwainSailor Twain or the Mermaid in the Hudson
By: Mark Siegel
Publisher: First Second
Format: Hardcover, 6 x 9, 400 pages, Black and White
ISBN: 978-1-59643-636-7

Set in the mystical waters of America's Gilded Age along the Hudson river the characters in this story are keeping secrets; and even though they may seem innocent enough to each other, there is much more to be found underneath their artificial surfaces. Guarded and secretive, however, each character's secrets eerily rise to the surface and the reader finds him/herself mesmerized by this beautifully illustrated and engaging tale of what lies beneath the gild.  

A tale centered on a mermaid, a captain, the owner of a ship, and a curiously-insightful and extremely popularly yet anonymous writer, Mark Siegel's Sailor Twain will take readers by the hand and steer them through the often murky waters of this modern and seductive tale.

And if that doesn't give you enough motivation to pick up this graphic novel here are a few highlights to ponder:
• What's the deal with the mermaid?
• Why seven lovers?
• How is it possible for the owner of the ship to send mail in bottles he throws out into the Hudson river? And, even more mysterious than that, receive responses?
• And why in the world can't the owner ever leave the ship?
• Who is this popular, anonymous writer?  
• What in the world does the anonymous author seem to know that the other characters don't know?

Elements of Story

Mysteriously drawn to a specific ship on the Hudson river a host of characters in Sailor Twain seemingly have nothing in common. But their secrets are intimately related.

Major Characters: Captain Twain, the mermaid, Lafayette, C.G. Beaverton, Pike, Jacques-Henri, Horatio, Pearl

Settings: The Hudson River Valley

Themes: Gilded, Secrets, Surfaces, Myth and Legend, Relationships, Mystery and/or Deception

Suggested Literary Pairings: The Odyssey by Homer, Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, Beowulf, The Awakening by Kate Chopin, Animal Farm by George Orwell

Reading Common Core Standards Alignment

Key Ideas and Details

1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
2. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
3. Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

Example Lesson Plan for High School Readers

To begin, I suggest that teachers preread Sailor Twain before assigning it to their students. The story is so rich and well-developed, so human, that teachers will want to preface certain situations that present themselves as integral aspects of the story.   

Because this graphic novel is so cinematically engaging I recommend a graphic organizer that uses the characters as references points for furthering the idea of what it means to be "gilded" in Sailor Twain

  Captain Twain Lafayette C.G. Beaverton
What lies
above the
gilded river-
like line for


What lies
below the
gilded river-
like line for



When introducing this graphic organizer brainstorm and build schema about the term "gilded." Explain that the term may present one impression while hiding others.  

Next, and thinking primarily about the three main characters (Captain Twain, Lafayette, and C.G. Beaverton) ask students to:
• Above the water, list details that the characters wants the others in the story to know.  
• Below the water, list details that the characters do NOT want others to know.  

You may want to encourage students to list page numbers as documentation for their reasonings.

Finally, after reading, ask students to engage in a whole class discussion, giving evidence and reasonings for all of their above and below water placements.

Katie Monnin, PhD, is an assistant professor of literacy at the University of North Florida and author of Teaching Graphic Novels: Practical Strategies for the Secondary ELA Classroom (2010) from Maupin House. To learn more about Teaching Graphic Novels or Katie Monnin, please go to this link: http://www.maupinhouse.com/monnin.php.