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Illustrated by August Hall



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About The Book

Keeper was born in the ocean, and she believes she is part mermaid. So as a ten-year-old she goes out looking for her mother—an unpredictable and uncommonly gorgeous woman who swam away when Keeper was three—and heads right for the ocean, right for the sandbar where mermaids are known to gather. But her boat is too small for the surf—and much too small for the storm that is brewing on the horizon.

Kathi Appelt follows her award-winning and New York Times bestselling novel The Underneath with this stunning, mysterious, and breathtaking tale of a girl who outgrows fairy tales just a little too late—and learns in the end that there is nothing more magical and mythical than love itself.


Keeper 1
Keeper leaned over the edge of the boat. In the darkness of the night, she glared at the black surface of the water.

“You stupid crabs!” She sputtered as she said it. Keeper knew that Signe would be mad if she heard her use that word, “stupid,” but it was the only one that seemed to fit, so she said it again, this time with more force. “Stupid!”

She hoped the not-allowed word would sink down to the bottom of the pond and etch its way into the crabs’ hard shells. She couldn’t see them, but she knew they were down there, scuttling along the bottom of the pond.

In her entire ten years she had never heard crabs speak before. And then, that very morning, all ten of them had called out to her.

Those ten crabs had turned this whole day into a disaster.

Stupid, stupid, stupid crabs!

Keeper checked the rope that held her boat to the pier. It was still too tight to untie it. She needed the moon to rise, which would make the tide rise, then the boat rise, which would make the rope go slack, which would mean she could untie the knot, which would mean she could set her plan into action. Her perfect plan.

“Come on, moon,” she implored. Didn’t it know she was in a hurry? As soon as she said the word “moon,” she chewed on her bottom lip. So much had depended upon tonight’s moon, a blue moon, second full moon of the month.

First, Signe’s gumbo.

Then, Dogie’s two-word song.

Finally, Mr. Beauchamp’s night-blooming cyrus.

All three of those things had depended upon the blue moon, and all of them, every one, had been ruined.

Ruined by… CRABS!

Keeper never wanted to see another crab in her entire life! Never, never, never!

And now she needed the moon to turn the tide around and pull her out of the pond, through the channel, and into the breakers until she got to the sandbar.

That was the plan… or at least the first part of the plan.

Reading Group Guide

Keeper by Kathi Appelt
A Discussion Guide

Prereading Activity
References to mermaids and mermen are woven throughout the story of Keeper and her family.  Ask students to form small groups to investigate the legends and folklore surrounding mermaids and mermen.  Ask each group to research one of the following: Sedna, Ningyo, sirens, Meerfrau, Yemaya, Lorelei, and Rusalka.  Have students prepare a presentation for  the class that would include their findings and a picture of their subject.

Discussion Questions
1.  What is a blue moon? How often does a blue moon occur?  What important events supposedly occur on the night of a blue moon?  

2.  Why does the author allow the reader to see the human characters from Sinbad and BD’s points-of-view?  How do the animals portray the humans?  What do the readers learn about the animals that they wouldn’t know if they were not able to read the account from the animals’ points-of-view?

3.  On page 92, Keeper refers to “double insurance.”  What does she mean by that phrase?  How does Keeper gain “double insurance”?

4.  What does the reader learn about Signe through Keeper’s descriptions and interactions with her?  How would you describe Keeper and Signe’s relationship?

5.  Keeper’s biggest fear is that everyone she loves will leave her just as her mother did. (p. 105)  What proof does Keeper have that her fear is unfounded?  Why is her fear so real to her?  What has happened to unleash Keeper’s fear?

6.  As Keeper waits in The Scamper for the tide to rise, why does she have second thoughts?  What are her second thoughts?  Why does she continue to ignore her instincts?

7.  Signe’s stock answer to questions for which she doesn’t have the answers is, “That is a question for the universe.”  How can a question for the universe be answered?  Why isn’t Signe willing to discuss those questions with Keeper?

8.  The night Keeper takes The Scamper out through the cut, for what does each character wish?  How are their wishes granted?  Is it a night for the “magic of wishes”? Why or why not?

9.  How does the trauma of almost drowning in The Scamper allow Keeper to remember the truth about her mother, Meggie Marie?  What is the truth about Keeper, her mother, and Signe?  How did Keeper get her name?

10.  Dogie, Signe, and Mr. Beauchamp all lose something important to them as a result of Keeper’s choices.  What do they lose?  How does each of the characters cope with their loss?  What does Keeper lose?  How does she find it?

11.  What roles do BD, Sinbad, Too, and Captain play in Keeper’s story?  How do they help save her life?

12.  What connection does Jacques de Mer have to Mr. Beauchamp?  What signal calls Jacques de Mer to The Scamper to save Keeper’s life?

13.  What makes Mr. Beauchamp, Dogie, Signe, and Keeper a family of sorts?  In spite of the hurt feelings, how does the day and night of the blue moon draw the four characters closer together?

Activities & Projects
1.  Keeper’s story occurs in a twelve- to fifteen-hour period of time.  Ask students to think of a time when an important event, either positive or negative, has happened in their family or with their friends over a similar time period.  Then ask students to make a time line of events, listing all of the major occurrences and illustrating them. Using the time line as a storyboard, have students write a personal narrative of the events including sensory details, dialogue, and character thoughts, where appropriate. Share and post time lines and narratives in the classroom.

2.  Ask students to select a partner and to study the setting of the book, the gulf coast of Texas, just south of Houston.  Students can investigate the marine and animal life, climate and weather, tide and currents, occupations and recreation, and other aspects of living on the coast in South Texas.  Ask students to be creative with the final product and to produce a tourism brochure for a remote beach, a videotape or CD commercial advertising the Gulf Coast attractions, or a layout for a proposed website for the Houston, Texas,, coastal area.

3.  Ask each student to select a character in the novel and, using the persona of that character, to write a letter to another character.  Based on what the reader knows about the relationship between the characters and the personality of the characters, the letter should include apologies, if necessary; an explanation of what the character means to the letter writer; positive attributes of the character being written to; and other heartfelt expressions of love and/or friendship.

4.  Dogie owned a surf store of sorts on the coast.  Ask students to research surfing and to report on one aspect of the sport: the equipment, the types of surf, how to surf, or a biography of a famous surfer.  Create a classroom bulletin board with the information.

5.  BD, Sinbad, Too, and Captain all seem to understand their humans and to know how to communicate with them.  The animals also seem to have an intuition for sensing danger.   Have students interview zoo or ranch personnel, pet store owners, veterinarians, family members or friends inquiring about similar animal experiences.   Have students choose a format to share their research: in terviews, personal narratives, poems, etc. Compile their accounts into a classroom book.

About the Book
Keeper believes in magic, wishes, and the wonder of mermaids.  It is these beliefs that cause her to have the worst day in her ten-year-old life—all because she hears the crabs asking her to set them free. Stupid crabs!  First, she breaks Signe’s bowl when she slips on water, setting the crabs free.  Then she allows her dog, BD, to chase the cat, Sinbad, which leads to the destruction of Mr. Beauchamp’s antique roses and Dogie’s prized ukulele.  She knows the only way to fix the mess she has created is to find her mother, Meggie Marie, the mermaid. Making an elaborate plan to meet the mermaids at the cut on the night of the blue moon, Keeper borrows Dogie’s small boat, but the blue moon doesn’t cooperate, and the tide carries her far out to sea.  With her life hanging in the balance, her animal friends come to her rescue in a bizarre way, and she even receives help from the mysterious Jacques de Mer.  Keeper learns the hard way what love is and isn’t and, more importantly, how families stick together through thick and thin.

About the Author
Kathi Appelt is an award-winning author of children’s books, poetry, short stories, and novels.  Ms. Appelt teaches creative writing to both children and adults and lives in College Station, Texas.  She is married and has two grown

About The Author

Photograph courtesy of the author

Kathi Appelt is the author of the Newbery Honoree, National Book Award finalist, and bestselling The Underneath as well as the National Book Award finalist The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man SwampMaybe a Fox (with Alison McGhee), Keeper, and many picture books including Counting Crows and Max Attacks. She has two grown children and lives in College Station, Texas, with her husband. Visit her at

About The Illustrator

August Hall has brought his creative talent to both Pixar and Dreamworks. He lives in Hollywood, California.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (May 18, 2010)
  • Length: 416 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781416950608
  • Grades: 3 - 7
  • Ages: 8 - 12
  • Lexile ® 770 The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®
  • Fountas & Pinnell™ U These books have been officially leveled by using the F&P Text Level Gradient™ Leveling System

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Raves and Reviews

On a day when everything goes wrong, a little girl relies on the magic of the blue moon to turn things around. Since her mother swam away seven years ago, ten-year-old Keeper has lived happily with Signe on a remote slice of Texas coast, convinced that her mother’s a mermaid. Keeper’s waited all summer for the blue moon, when Signe will make blue moon gumbo, their friend Dogie will propose to Signe and their elderly neighbor’s night-blooming cereus will flower. But when she accidentally spoils everything, Keeper sets out under the blue moon in a small boat, determined to row across dangerous Gulf waters to find her mother. While the action occurs in a single day, Appelt relies on flashbacks to flesh out her diverse human, animal and mythical characters. Deftly spinning together mermaid lore, local legend and natural history, this stunning tale proves “every landscape has its magical beings,” and the most unlikely ones can form a perfect family. Hall’s black-and-white illustrations lend perspective and immediacy. Beautiful and evocative—an absolute “keeper.” -- KIRKUS, May 1, 2010, STAR

When you’re 10 years old and you’ve had a really bad day, you look for your mother. That’s what Keeper is doing—only Keeper believes her mother, who left when she was three, is a mermaid, so her plan involves getting a rowboat out into the sea late that night. And because Keeper has let down Signe, her guardian; Dogie, her best friend/employer; and even Mr. Beauchamp, her surrogate grandfather, she has to carry out that plan alone. Amid scattered pieces of August’s dreamlike spot art, Appelt unfurls Keeper’s magical story slowly, looking back over Keeper’s day and forward to her longed-for reunion with the mother. As in her Newbery Honor–winning The Underneath, the point of view shifts between characters human, animal, and otherwise, but with less of the precocity that sometimes encumbered its predecessor. Texas’s Gulf Coast, alive with Cajun spice and superstition, provides a mysterious haven for them all. A narrative thread based on a tender love story between two teenage boys may draw controversy, but Appelt masterfully balances themes of loss and renewal and demonstrates that magic works in unexpected ways. In so doing, she has written another keeper. - PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, May 3, 2010 STARRED REVIEW

Ten-year-old Keeper believes in wishes and magic, and why shouldn’t she? Her mother, gone for the last seven years, is a mermaid, after all! So on the day of the Blue Moon, when everything she does has a disastrous result, Keeper knows her only option is to row out past the sandbar to the treacherous open water of the Gulf of Mexico, accompanied by BD (Best Dog) and Captain the seagull, and hope her mermaid mama can tell her how to fix things. Keeper is funny, feisty, at times older than her years, and often so stubborn that readers will have to shake their heads. In other words, quite realistic. The adults in the story are beautifully drawn, and absolutely believable, and the Gulf Coast setting is practically a character itself. The tender romance between two teenaged boys years earlier is hinted at, and it is sensitively portrayed, as is the romance between Keeper’s guardian, Signe, and the damaged former soldier, Dogie. Filled with love, wild adventure, family drama, and even a touch of true fantasy, this is a deeply satisfying tale.–Mara Alpert, Los Angeles Public Library

SLJ July 1, 2010 STAR

Awards and Honors

  • School Library Journal Best Books of the Year
  • CCBC Choices (Cooperative Children's Book Council)
  • NCTE Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts
  • Parents' Choice Approved Award Winner
  • Kirkus Best Children's Book
  • North Carolina Young Adult Book Award Nominee

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More books from this illustrator: August Hall