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Shadow Mother

Written by Seán Virgo

Illustrated by Javier Serrano Pérez

  • 64 Pages
  • 9780888999719
  • from grade 6
  • JUVENILE FICTION / Family / Parents
  • JUVENILE FICTION / Legends, Myths, Fables / Other
  • JUVENILE FICTION / Science Fiction, Fantasy, Magic

$15.37 $21.95

Publication Date June 01, 2014

In the Selkie legends of Scotland and Ireland, a seal sheds its skin and comes ashore as a woman. When a man falls in love with her, he hides the skin to prevent her from returning to the sea. In Seán Virgo’s story, the master of a tall ship hides the shadow of his beloved, with moving consequences.

While on a voyage far from home, his ship at anchor among islands and palm trees, a ship’s master sees a girl laughing in the sea. He is entranced and searches for her on his way home. A wise old woman tells him where to find her, and also tells him that he must hide her shadow. He is convinced that he loves the girl more than the sea itself, and takes her back to the river of his birth, where their son is born.

The boy grows up in a world of silence. His father is gloomy, and his mother, although loving, moves like a shadow in the house and walks alone by the sea, full of loss and longing.

On his tenth birthday the boy finds an old sea chest in the attic, where he returns whenever he feels sad and lonely. One day its rusty lock comes undone, and inside he discovers a strange white skin, with an underside that stings him. The boy becomes feverish, and in his delirium hears a voice telling him to take the skin down to the shore. Waves gradually take the skin and the boy into the water, and he swims out to the world where he belongs.

Seán Virgo was first inspired to write this story when researching a novel in the Solomon Islands, where the islanders believe in Kareimanua, a half man, half shark. He was also influenced by the Selkie legends of Scotland and Ireland, the swan maiden of Germanic myth, and the European fascination with the South Seas, involving both romance and plunder.

Seán Virgo’s mysterious, haunting story is complemented by Javier Serrano’s extraordinary and stunningly beautiful illustrations.

Selected for the Canadian Children's Book Centre Best Books for Kids and Teens 2014


Seán Virgo
Seán Virgo was born in Malta, and grew up in South Africa, Malaya, Ireland and the UK before immigrating to Canada. He began to publish as a poet. He has also written about Northwest Coast aboriginal cultures and artists, but he now focuses more on fiction. He has won many awards, including the CBC Competition (first prize for fiction), the BBC 3 Short Story Competition (first prize) and two National Magazine awards (for poetry and fiction). He has also been involved in theater, as a writer, actor and director. Over the years he has taught, logged, blasted, dug graves, witched wells, shepherded, smuggled and edited. He lives in Eastend, Saskatchewan.

Javier Serrano Pérez
Javier Serrano Pérez is a painter, a draftsman, the graphic designer and art director of one of Spain’s most prestigious children’s publishers (Anaya) and the illustrator of many children’s books. He has won Spain’s National Prize for Children’s Literature — Illustration, the Latin American Prize for Book Illustration, the Professional Association of Illustrators of Madrid Prize, and the Fundación Santa María International Prize for Book Illustration. He was also a finalist for the Hans Christian Andersen Award, the highest international recognition given to an author or illustrator of children’s books. He lives in Madrid.


"Virgo’s magnetic words are rendered into hypnotic landscapes by Hans Christian Andersen Award finalist Javier Serrano Pérez, in which humans, fish, and other fantastic beings overlap and coalesce without boundaries. The effect is exquisite, both tragic and hopeful, with promise of brand new beginnings." Book Dragon

"A dreamy, mystical quality suffuses this brief, wispily written tale, inspired by an unusual variation on the legend of the selkie." School Library Journal