For those of you with kids (and who also love swimming.. but of course you would not be reading this if you did not) this is a fun book that I stumbled on at the library. It was a rave with the girls and me.
Mermaid Queen: The Spectacular True Story of Annette Kellerman, Who Swam Her Way to Fame, Fortune, and Swimsuit History. illus. by Edwin Fotheringham. unpaged. reprods. CIP. Scholastic. Apr. 2009.
Here is the review from the School Library Journal...
"Gr 2-5–Kellerman’s name might not be familiar, but this rule-breaking, high-diving, early fashionista will inspire students. Her difficulties walking as a child, which are only hinted at in the book’s illustrations, drove her father to try to strengthen her legs through swimming lessons. In the early 1900s, before women were allowed to compete in the Olympics, her hard-earned athleticism drew more criticism than compliments. Swimming? Unladylike! Record setting? For the boys! Eager to do something more artistic with her abilities, Annette invented water ballet, and her acrobatic feats drew crowds. Each event described is interesting, but what really shines is Kellerman’s persistent refusal to rest on her laurels. After her attempt to be the first woman to swim the English Channel, and performing for kings and queens, she went on to pioneer the modern woman’s bathing suit, which led to her arrest in the U.S. Fotheringham’s glorious artwork is filled with period details and dress, high-dives and stunts, and priceless expressions on the faces of amazed audiences. The extensive back matter details Kellerman’s further accomplishments and includes citations. This well-written and brightly illustrated account is a perfect pearl."
Of course after this find I had to hear more about this interesting woman and find some grown up books. It turns out there is also a recent biography out entitled The Original Million Dollar Mermaid by Emily Gibson.
And best of all Annette appears to have written a few of her own books, wilst dazzling crowds with her water ballet and being a vaudeville performer. She is credited with creating the first modern "bathing suit" for women. She was even arrested in Boston near the turn of the century for wearing it in public! She had to sew in stockings to cover her legs (see below).
I think her 1918 book How to Swim would be a great gift for any female swimming addict. In fact I've already ordered a copy as a present for a historian friend.
If you have time check out these short videos of her vaudeville days... Neptune's Daughter.