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
hireanillustrator.com. 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,
amazon.com, BN.com, iTunes.com, Kindle, Nook, and
dellaandlila.com. 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