Monongahela River the Setting for Girl’s Mermaid Story

Washington PA Observer-Reporter
16 September 2016
By Dave Zuchowski

Della Mitchell’s book, “Della and Lila Meet the Monongahela Mermaid” Back in March 2014, Della Mitchell, then 6, was sitting next to her mother, Brianne, at their Blainsburg home and procrastinating to avoid homework.

In a flash, she interrupted her mother, who was working at a nearby table and began narrating a story about a mermaid who lived in the Monongahela River.

As Della sketched her story for her mother, Brianne began typing to record the plot about a mermaid who turns to two little girls, Della and her younger sister, Lila, to help save her watery home from the ravages of polluters. The budding storyteller and her real-life sister, Lila, now 5, then began filling in the details of the story.

“I love Disney, fairy tales, folklore and stories my mom tells me about the river, and I just knew there had to be a mermaid living in the Monongahela,” explained Della, now 7, a student at California Area Elementary Center.

Believing she had a tale suitable for a children’s book, Brianne sent the text off to four publishers, who replied the book was “too local” and wanted editing revisions, including changing the name of the river.

Undeterred by their response, Brianne decided to start her own publishing enterprise, Mitchell’s Publishing. She also scoured the Internet looking for an illustrator and found one on The fact that Sian Bowman lived in Wales didn’t deter her from asking her to illustrate the book.

“I saw on the Internet that Sian created the most gorgeous illustrations of the Welsh countryside,” Brianne said. “I emailed her saying ‘Here’s our book project. Would you want to help?’”

Bowman agreed to take on the project, and with her now on board, Brianne spent “hours and hours” going back and forth between the designer and printing company until she was finally satisfied with the end result. “Della and Lila Meet the Monongahela Mermaid” had its release in paperback in March 2015. A hard-copy version is scheduled to hit shelves in time for the holidays.

Besides the inspirational story of two young girls teaming up with a mermaid to raise awareness of pollution and ecological damages to the river, the book weaves educational elements (geology, biology, geography and vocabulary) into the text. To expand the reader’s use of new words, those considered more sophisticated or less-used are printed in a different color and highlighted in a text block on the page.

The book, tailored for ages 2 and up, also includes a page of illustrations of Pennsylvania wildlife “hidden” on subsequent pages, creating a seek and find experience. Many of the animals represented in the book, including the mermaid, were also turned into plush toys that can be purchased separately.

With the release of the book in the United Kingdom in June 2015, Della and her parents flew to London, then traveled by car to Aberystwyth, Wales, near the village of the illustrator, where they participated in a book signing at Waterstone, what Brianne calls the British version of Barnes and Noble.

“When my book was published, I was amazed to see my little story had come to life with characters that are my family and friends,” said Della, who said she wants to encourage others, even if they don’t read the book, not to litter, to recycle and to help clean up the river.

The Mitchells left Lila in the care of her grandparents, which eventually launched the idea for a second book after a visit to Fort Necessity in Fayette County. Lila was so impressed with the account of General Braddock’s march on Fort Duquesne and his diary entry about burying a treasure along the Mon that she came up with the narrative for “Della and Lila and the Treasure Adventure,” due to be published in the near future.

A third book, “Della and Lila Meet the Monongahela Monster” is now in the planning stages. Although none of the books is a sequel, they can stand alone but also can be read as a series with the two girls serving as main characters.

Since the first book’s release in the United States, Brianne read it at Barnes and Noble in Pittsburgh’s South Hills and at area elementary and preschools.

“Part of my goal is to show that if you have a story to tell, it can be told, and, if you have an idea, you can make it happen,” she said. “I also notice that, when Della reads her book to other children and friends, it inspires more stories from them. Every child, it seems, has their own stories to tell.”

The book is now available for purchase at Barnes and Noble stores,,,, Kindle, Nook, and A portion of the proceeds from the sale of each book goes toward the River Fund created by the Mitchell family to provide educational and enrichment opportunities for children in Southwestern Pennsylvania.