The Sea King’s Daughter is a lesser-known fairy tale from a Russian ballad. In the story, a young musician descends to the home of the Sea King and plays for a wild party — which, he learns, sets the seas raging and endangers the ships above. He marries the Sea King’s daughter, but doesn’t live happily ever after. His mother in law tells him that if he kisses his bride, he will never return to his home on land, so the musician resists the mermaid’s charms and wakes in his own bed. The story does have a happy ending, since the musician marries a new bride and has children and lives happily ever after, but he does sometimes think of the mermaid. He even thinks he sometimes sees her yearning sadly after him.
Aaron Shepard’s The Sea King’s Daughter: A Russian Legend is a fine picture book version. Hear the author pronouncing the names at the link, so you can read it aloud with confidence. You might also like Shepard’s reader’s theater script for this story.
- Enjoy a couple of illustrations from Aaron Shepard’s retelling of this story:
- The illustrator is Gennady Spirin. The links above are PDF files, and could be printed out for use in your classroom.
- Have students illustrate the story themselves, spending some time researching sea creatures so they can draw them accurately.
- Make mermaid puppets, with patterns and cut outs from Phee McFaddle or Marilyn Scott Waters. Students might prefer to design their own!
- Compare this story with that of The Little Mermaid. The idea of having to choose between the sea and the land and the sad yearning of the mermaid are similarities, but there are many differences.
- You might also like to compare this story with the tale of The Selkie Wife. The story is available in a printable version with activities in The Arctic Triptych, or read Mara Freeman’s retelling.
- Having examined some love stories involving sea creatures and land creatures, ask students to write their own. You can read another version at Storybird. Students might like to proofread it for the author, and also to create their own Storybird collaborative stories.
- This is a Russian story — see part of a puppet show version in Russian below. Sur la Lune has a longer version called Sadko from Old Peter’s Russian Tales by Arthur Ransome. The story is also the basis of Rimsky-Korsokov’s opera Sadko. Given that this is clearly a popular Russian story, why might it be so little known in the United States, compared with other Russian stories such as Peter and the Wolf?
- Storynory has another version of the story of Sadko, complete with the sound of Sadko’s instrument, the gusli. This instrument is reminiscent of the harp, the zither, or the dulcimer. Have students research these instruments and compare them.
- Learn about Russia. Here are some great online resources:
- National Geographic Kids Russia
- A PDF about Peter the Great, from the wonderful Time Warp Trio
- A Core Knowledge lesson on Russia for 5th grade
- A pattern for a felt matryoshka (nesting) doll would also make a great bulletin board in paper. Zakka Life has a template and instructions for a matryoshka card which we think would make a terrific shape book. Have students cut it from construction paper and write facts about Russia as they learn them.
- Make some ponchiki, Russian doughnuts, if you’re brave. Get help from the lunch ladies or use a closed electric fryer and make sure kids don’t get near the hot oil.
- Compare mermaid stories from different countries.