Water Legends and Lore

Length of Program

60 minutes

Program Description

“Fathoms below, below, from whence wayward Westerlies blow. Where Triton is king and his merpeople sing. In mysterious fathoms below.”

-From the song, “Fathoms Below” from Disney’s The Little Mermaid.

In this program, teens learn about legends of mysterious sea and water creatures from throughout the ages, from Poseidon to mermaids to La Llorona. Teens will also learn the elements of writing legends and folklore. They will have the opportunity to write their own water legend and display it in the library, or submit it to an online fairy tale site, or post it on the library web site.


Prepare a handout explaining the structure of traditional stories. Select books and web sites about water legends for the teens to use as inspiration.

Books to Share

  • Black Ships Before Troy: The Story of the Illiad by Rosemary Sutcliff.
  • Magickal Mermaids and Water Creatures: Invoke the Magick of the Waters by D.J. Conway.
  • The Odyssey retold by Geraldine McCaughrean.
  • The Seal Mother by Mordecai Gerstein.
  • The Selkie Girl by Susan Cooper.
  • Singer to the Sea God by Vivien Alcock.

Books to Booktalk

  • The Frog Princess by E.D. Baker.
  • La Llorona, the Weeping Woman: A Hispanic Legend told in Spanish and English by Joe Hayes.
  • The Witch’s Boy by Michael Gruber.

Bulletin Board

Cover the bulletin board with butcher paper and write “Fairy Tales, Legends, and Lore” across the top. Display the tales written by teens during the program, or allow all library patrons to submit stories for consideration.


Serve flavored waters, Chex™ snack mix, popcorn, and fresh fruit.


The lyrics to a ballad about the selkie can be found at Dan Dutton’s Ballad Project, http://dandutton.com/DanDuttonsBallad/selkie.html.

Stories to Tell

Tell a story about selkies. The Selkie Girl by Susan Cooper and The Seal Mother by Mordecai Gerstein are good choices that will hold the attention of teens. The Seal Mother is out-of-print, but you may have it in your collection or be able to borrow it through interlibrary loan. To learn about the lore of selkies and other mythical sea creatures, visit The Selkie Folk on the Folklore of the Orkney Islands web siteat www.orkneyjar.com/folklore/selkiefolk.

Read or tell the story, The Mermaid of Zennor, a Cornish tale, available online at Tales of Wonder, www.darsie.net/talesofwonder/england/mz.html. This story tells of how the magic of music lured a young girl from the sea and the magic of love lured a young man to it.

Read or tell the story of La Llorona, the Weeping Woman: A Hispanic Legend told in Spanish and English by Joe Hayes.

Games and Activities

Write a Fairy Tale or Legend

Begin the program with a short introduction to a few myths, legends, and fairy tales that have water as an element. Suggestions include an excerpt from The Odyssey, the story of La Llorona, or the Arthurian legend about the Lady of the Lake. Discuss elements of the story after each short reading. Distribute the worksheets showing the elements of a fairy tale and have the teens write their own fairy tales. A Fairy Tale Elements Rubric is online at www.abcteach.com/FairyTales/fairy_tale_rubric.htm. Or, distribute a handout showing the Structure of Traditional stories as outlined below.

When the teens finish their stories, they can read them aloud in groups or to the group as a whole. Display the fairy tales in the library, upload them to the library’s web site, or submit them for consideration to be published on Jon Sciezka’s Fractured Fairy Tales and Fables site http://teacher.scholastic.com/writewit/mff/fractured_fairy_publish.asp.

Allow teens who do not wish to write and prefer to draw or paint pictures of creatures from fairy tales or legends to do so.

Structure of Traditional Stories

  1. Traditional stories begin with an introduction that tells when and where the story happens, and who the story is about.
    • Tells when the story happened (Time)
    • Tells where the story happened (Place or Setting)
    • Tells who the story is about (Characters)


    Once upon a time, in a magical kingdom beneath the sea, there lived a beautiful Selkie. Most of the time Selkie folk live as seals frolicking in the sea. But on wondrous nights, when the moon is full and magic swirls from the air to the water to the land to the sky, they take human form. And when they do, they revel in their freedom - and they dance!…

  2. The story is set in motion by an initiating event

    Something different that happens that causes the characters to do something they might not have done. The initiating event creates a CONFLICT the character must resolve.


    One such starry evening, when the moonlight twinkled upon the water like jewels on a crinolin shawl, when the swift current caressed the Selkie with its warmth, she swam to the shallow water near the place where men walk upon the land. She climbed upon an island and gazed at the light of the moon. Happiness filled her heart as she removed her sealskin and stood upon her own two legs. And there, on that island, she danced for joy!

  3. The main part of the story is an event sequence, or plot.

    The plot is what the main character (or hero) does in response to the initiating event. In traditional stories, the main character usually makes three attempts to solve the problem. The first two attempts fail, and readers get to know and like characters that exhibit strength, wit, tenacity, and intelligence. The plot stimulates the reader’s interest in how the main character will finally resolve the problem.


    The Selkie closed her eyes and swayed in the moonlight and breathed deeply in the salt air, unaware that a wave had carried away her sealskin, or that she was being watched. For that evening, a fisherman cast his net into the glistening water. When he emptied the catch into his boat, there among the cod and the kingfish was a strange and beautiful sealskin that shone with colors of silver and grey. He held it to the moonlight and then looked around in wonder. Then he saw a sight so enchanting and graceful that his heart was filled with joy. The fisherman wanted nothing more than to spend his life with the Selkie. He rowed in silence to the island and spoke to her gently, calling her his own true love. The Selkie was astonished by his voice. She turned to put on her sealskin and dive into the sea, and found it was not there. The fisherman climbed upon the island. Summoning his courage, he kissed her face and asked her to stay with him forever. And when he kissed her, the Selkie’s heart leapt with happiness. More than anything, she wished to stay with the fisherman, yet she knew she belonged beneath the sea, and he could not survive there.

    The Selkie stayed with the fisherman and they were wed. He never told her that he had found her sealskin. He kept it hidden for fear that she would leave him. As the years passed, they had many children, and she loved them all. She never told them that she was a Selkie. Yet her heart belonged to the sea. Her husband knew of her longing and sometimes he thought about giving her the sealskin, but he could not bear the thought of her leaving. Nor could she, for she loved her husband and children dearly. Yet on nights when the moon was full, when the children and the fisherman were asleep, she walked softly to the sea where she slept and dreamed of her home beneath the waves.

  4. The Climax

    This is the most exciting point of the story. It is the bridge between the character's struggle to solve the problem and its final resolution.


    Late one night as she walked by the sea, she came upon her husband’s boat. At that moment she heard a Selkie voice singing to her and an irresistible longing for her Selkie family arose within her. As she listened to the song, she heard her father’s voice say that her sealskin was in her husband’s boat, and there she found it. Without a thought for her human husband and children, she put on her sealskin and dove beneath the sea.

  5. The Conclusion

    This is a brief, satisfying ending or resolution, possibly with an element of surprise.


    The next morning, her husband and children awoke and found her gone. Her husband ran to his boat and discovered that the sealskin was missing and he knew she had returned to the sea. It was then that he told his children of the night he found a beautiful sealskin and saw a woman, their mother, dancing on an island in the moonlight. He promised them tearfully that he would take them there.

    It was the summer solstice, a wondrous night, when the moon is full and magic swirls from the air to the water to the land to the sky, and the fisherman rowed his children to the island. They sat upon a rock and sang as the fisherman played a whistle. Beneath the waves the music traveled, and when it reached the Selkie, her heart filled with happiness. She swam to the shallow water near the place where men walk upon the land and climbed upon the island and gazed at the light of the moon shining on the faces of her human husband and children. Happiness filled her heart as she removed her sealskin and stood upon her own two legs. And throughout the night they danced and sang for joy!


If you have public performance rights, show these videos and DVDs, or segments of them, to the teens. Otherwise, display them for home use.

The Secret of Roan Inish. (102 minutes)

Web Sites

La Llorona


This site includes an online copy of Joe Hayes’ version of the story.

Professional Resources

ABC Teach


This teacher support site provides a matrix for determining if all of the elements are included in a folktale.

The Camelot Project


The Camelot Project is designed to make available in electronic format a database of Arthurian texts, images, bibliographies, and basic information. Click on the Main Menu for information and images about each Arthurian character.

Dan Dutton’s Ballad Project


This musician’s web site includes lyrics for the ballads he has collected and adapted.

Folklore of the Orkney Islands


Folklore, including tales of selkie maidens and other mythic sea creatures, is included on this site.



This site lists legends and tales from various times and places.

Mermaids on the Web


This site holds more than 1,720 resources about mermaids, including pictures of mermaids of every imaginable type, and links to articles, folklore, mermaid movie reviews, and much more.

Sciezka’s Fractured Fairy Tales and Fables


This site publishes submissions of original writings by students.

Tales of Wonder


This site offers a collection of folklore and stories from around the world.


Texas Reading Club 2007 Programming Manual / Sail Away with Books!

Published by the Library Development Division of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission

Page last modified: June 14, 2011