It's all about...popular girls...rec rooms...summers at the lake...dates with wealthy, thrill-crazy antiques...small town political corruption...and finding your true path in life. The Paris Hat considers the sometimes frothy, sometimes serious world of novels for teenage girls from the 1950s and 60s.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Ask Any Mermaid

Title: Minnow Vail
Author: Winifred E. Wise
Publisher: Whitman Teen, 1962
Jacket: Mimi Kovach
Provenance: Formerly the property of Mary Astley
Setting: Cliffside [Laguna Beach?], California
Fun: Being a mermaid, not a grunion; diving for abalone; The Carnival of the Sea
Quote: "Here and there lay the surfboards, looking rather like great white fish left stranded on the sand.  Some were being used as card tables and some for picnic lunches, but most owners frowned upon such desecration.  Boys who were really serious about surfing spent hours putting various waxes and resins upon them, rubbing them down as tenderly as if they had been thoroughbred horses; a surfboard was a highly personal possession to be stood carefully against some rock until the right time came to launch it."

Minnow Vail is also deeply imbued with the local color and regionalism often found in books from this era: to wit, Cliffside is, at least partly, I think, based on Laguna Beach,* home of "The Hills," which it would seem to otherwise have nothing in common with.  Cliffside is described as small beach town, living off fishing, seashell collecting and a certain amount of tourism, with the highlight of the season being "The Carnival of the Sea," a pageant in which locals dress up as sea creatures and parade through the streets.  It is Minna Vail's ambition to no longer be a grunion in the carnival, but a full-fledged Mermaid, one of several elected by vote of the citizens.  (The male equivalent is an Octopus.)

Most of Minnow Vail is episodic:  a foreign exchange students teaches her to tango, she goes skin diving for abalone with Bob Jones, long-time best friend and possible boyfriend.  The tone is gently satiric, often devoting itself to describing such rituals as small-town movie night.  A more serious subplot has Minna's best friend Laura developing polio (her father somewhat lamely explains that she put off getting a Salk vaccine) and having to recuperate in an LA hospital.  In the end, Minna, though younger than the other Mermaids, becomes one by virtue of an unusual song and dance number.

Like When Debbie Dared and Then Came November, Minnow Vail was a Whitman Teen novel;  these books, I think, were aimed at a slightly younger audience, somewhere in the 14-15 year old range.  Romance is there, but not a priority; growing up is.

*According to the book jacket, Winifred Wise lived in Laguna Beach, moreover, from internal references Cliffside seems to be in Orange County.


  1. Most of the Whitman books have aged very poorly, so this is a find! I am reading Dinny Gordn, Freshman by Emery today. It's been a long time, and it's kind of uncomfortable reading, with the girls being so concerned with looks and boys. Glad to see you back!!

  2. Also glad to see your post -- I have you in my "Feedly" now that Google Reader is no more....

    To Ms. Yingling above, I re-read all four Dinny Gordon books every now and then. I do like that at least Dinny has some interests besides boys, but I don't like the parts when she starts to let her interests slide....

  3. I have been trying to find this book for years, I read it as a young teenager, then my Mum gave it to the Salvo's and I could not remember the name of it! I was so happy to find this post and realise it is the same book, Now I need to find a copy...

  4. Are you still doing this blog? Love your theme! Just discovered it today searching for Betty Cavana books.