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Annette Feels Free: The True Story of Annette Kellerman, World-Class Swimmer, Fashion Pioneer, and Real-Life Mermaid

Annette Feels Free: The True Story of Annette Kellerman, World-Class Swimmer, Fashion Pioneer, and Real-Life Mermaid
Age Range
Release Date
September 13, 2022
Buy This Book
Discover the incredible true story of “The Original Mermaid,” Annette Kellerman, a girl who wanted to dance, swim, and feel free—and who grew into a woman who fought for the right to do just that!

Annette loved to dance and twirl and pirouette. But when she got sick and had to start wearing braces on her legs, Annette stopped dancing. Until, one day, her dad took her swimming. Annette could finally dance again—in the water! She water danced her way to England, where she performed water ballets, attempted daring dives, and competed in swim races. When she competed against men (and won!), she realized it wasn’t fair that women had to swim in full skirts, so she made her own swimsuit, and fought for the right to wear it.

Experience the journey of an independent and determined young woman, who swam, danced, dove, and designed so she could live her life feeling free.

Editor review

1 review
Pioneering Australian Swimmer and Designer
Overall rating
Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
Learning Value
In the early 20th century, young Annette Kellerman distinguished herself as a "mermaid", swimming in places like Australia's Melbourne Aquarium to the delight of the public. She was motivated to swim after suffering an ailment when she was young that lead to a weakness in her legs that necessitated having heavy leg braces. Before this, she had enjoyed music, singing, and dancing, but the braces slowed her down. To help her, her father took her swimming, and she was able to regain a bit of the feeling of freedom in the water. In addition to swimming for pleasure, she started competing in events like swimming the English Channel and in races. She was irritated by her swimming costume, which consisted of a bulky dress with a skirt, bloomers, and a swim cap, and designed a sleeker suit modeled on what men at the time were wearing. This was considered scandalous, and she was even arrested for appearing on the beach in her creation. The case was thrown out when she appealed the the judge and showed him the differences in what men and women were allowed to wear. Kellerman went on to race, dive, and even appeared in 14 movies! Modern artistic swimming, as well as modern swimwear, owes a lot to this athletic pioneer!
Good Points
Anyone interested in women in sports should take a look at Sue Macy's fantastic Breaking Through: How Female Athletes Shattered Stereotypes in the Roaring Twenties (2020); this puts Kellerman's work into the perspective of more opportunities for women in sports a hundred years ago. My grandmother would have been slightly YOUNGER than Kellerman, who was born in 1886. For comparison, Helen Keller was born in 1880. Young readers will want to think about the timeline of women's history when finishing this book, and the notes on Kellerman at the end of the book will also add some information.

The book has a very nautical feel to it, with a lot of blues and greens, and the illustrations shown the various swimming costumes to good effect, and the pictures capture the historical feel very well.

My daughters had quite a collection of books about girls and women who were pioneers in their field, and those books showed them that their gender never had to be something that stopped them from accomplishing anything they wanted. Other fantastic biographies about women and sports include Pimentel's Girl Running: Bobbi Gibb and the Boston Marathon, Patrick's Long-Armed Ludy and the First Women's Olympics, and Reid's Althea Gibson: The Story of Tennis' Fleet-of-Foot Girl.
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