Sukey and the Mermaid Lesson Plan and Activities

Sukey and the Mermaid by Robert D. San Souci and Illustrated by Brian Pinkney is a West African tale that made its way to the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina. It is the story of an unhappy young girl named Sukey who lives with a mean step-father only to escape his furor by running away to a world below the sea where there is no pain, time, misery, or other people. This story touches on some sensitive issues that can be used to invoke interesting conversations about integrity, honesty, abuse, and perception. Below is a Sukey and the Mermaid lesson plan and activities to use in conjunction with this beautiful picture book for ages 5 – 8 and grade level kindergarten – 3.

Sukey and the Mermaid Lesson Plan and Activities

Book Summary Description:

Sukey’s new step-pa is a mean, bossy man. Every day Sukey wakes at dawn to work in the garden. All her step-pa ever does is watch her and yell if she so much as stops to fan herself. Sukey’s ma calls him Mister Jones. Sukey prefers the name “Mister Hard-Times.”
Son one day, Sukey runs away to her secret place by the ocean. There, she calls up Mama Jo, a beautiful black mermaid. Mama Jo’s got a surprise for Sukey; a magical kingdom beneath the sea without time or pain. But it’s also without people. Is it really better than the world above?

Sukey and the Mermaid Lesson Plan and Activities

ELA – English & Language Arts

Vocabulary Words

  1. rickety (adj) – likely to break; not strong
  2. skylarking (v) – daydreaming (such as “stop skylarking,” a phrase from Caribbean Islands)
  3. dunes (n) – a hill or mound of sand near the ocean formed by the wind
  4. kerchief (n) – a square cloth tied around one’s neck, or used to cover your hair
  5. grieve (v) – to show grief or sadness over a loss
  6. haul (v) – to pull or drag; to carry or move
  7. plunge (v) – to fall or jump from a high place; to have a steep slope
  8. dowry (n) – money or property this is given by a woman’s family to her fiancee when they get married
  9. mourner (adj) – someone who grieves especially at one’s funeral
  10. pursue (v) – to follow with intent to capture

Comprehension Questions

  1. Why does Sukey want to run away?
  2. This story has been called, “A Cinderella Story.” What are some similarities between Sukey and Cinderella? Are there other character-types that appear in both stories?
  3. Why does Sukey’s mom tell Mister Jones about the mermaid, Mama Jo?
  4. Why does Sukey choose the riddle that she asks Mama Jo?
  5. Why doesn’t Sukey choose to stay underwater? What would you have chosen? Why?
  6. Dowries were once very common and are still in use in many cultures. Why do you think doweries were/are used? How would you feel if your marriage required a dowry?
  7. What does Sukey learn about running away?
  8. Why does Mama Jo tell Sukey to only marry Dembo?
  9. What do you think of Mister Jones?
  10. Do you think Sukey and Dembo could have been happy without the dowry?


Many plants, herbs, and spices can be used for healing. The Gullah Geechee people have a long history of herbal medicine.

Find the medicinal uses of the following plants and herbs and fill out the Natural Healing Sheets:

Natural Healing Sheet

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  1. Common Name
  2. Scientific Name
  3. Kingdom
  4. Family
  5. Genus
  6. Uses


  • Peppermint Leaf
  • Garlic
  • Elderberry
  • Blackberry
  • Lemongrass

Geography & History

The Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina is home to the Gullah People, direct descendants of enslaved Africans from Central and West Africa who worked on plantations in Georgia, Florida, and the Carolinas. Its unique culture is a combination of more traditional African practices and languages and has maintained an identity separate from that of Black Americans in other areas of the country. They speak a dialect of Creole called Geeche. Children can explore the Gullah cultures with the following activities:

Watch Gullah Geechee —  I tried to flee: Ron Daise at TEDxCharleston This inspiring story about Ron Daise journey to accept his heritage without shame.

Gullah Culture Flag Activity

Project: Create a flag that represents the culture of the Sea Islands. You can gather the information that you need from the following websites:


  • posterboard or white canvas or similar fabric (22″ x 28″)
  • 2 wooden dowels ( 72-in L x 1-in dia)
  • markers, paint, fabric paint if you are using fabric, ephemera, etc.
  • Culture Sheet (below)
  • research material


  • Optional: If you choose to do this, you will want to do this first. Glue the dowels to the shorter sides of your poster board or fabric. You want to ensure that it’s affixed securely so that you could carry it without it falling.
  • Research the Sea Islands and the Gullah people being sure to pay special attention to the areas on the Culture Sheet.
  • Paint or color the background of your poster board or fabric with colors representative of the Gullah culture. Let it dry.
  • Decorate the flag using the ephemera and other materials that represent the culture. You can include maps, quotes, photos of famous people. words, foods, recipes, etc.

Culture Sheet

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Culture refers to the characteristics and behaviors of a particular group. It includes the following (have children define):

  • Beliefs _____________________________________________________
  • Traditions  __________________________________________________
  • Hobbies/Recreational Activities  ___________________________________
  • Arts and Music  _______________________________________________
  • Celebrations  _________________________________________________
  • Language(s)  _________________________________________________
  • Foods and Drinks  _____________________________________________
  • Family & Community  ___________________________________________
  • Symbols  ____________________________________________________
  • Heroes  _____________________________________________________
  • Ceremonies  __________________________________________________
  • Customs _____________________________________________________

Music & Art

Learn Geeche Songs and Music

Fungah Alafia 

( (

Fungah Alafia is a Nigerian call and response song of welcome. While not specifically Geeche, it is in sung in various African cultures. S


  • Fanga – is a welcome dance
  • Alafia – good health
  • Ashe – from the Yoruba people who believe that “ase” is the force of the Creator. It is often said in the same way that some religions use “amen.”


Call: Fanga alafia (hello, welcome)

Response: Ase, ase (amen, amen)


Kumbaya is a song created by the Gullah people of the Salt Islands and may have originally been called “Come by Yuh.” The word “kumbaya” is loosely translated to “Come by here” in English. There are various versions of this song, one of which is below.


Kumbaya, my Lord, Kumbaya!
Kumbaya, my Lord, Kumbaya!
Kumbaya, my Lord, Kumbaya!
Oh, Lord! Kumbaya!

Hear me crying, Lord, Kumbaya!
Hear me crying, Lord, Kumbaya!
Hear me crying, Lord, Kumbaya!
Oh, Lord! Kumbaya!

Hear me singing, Lord, Kumbaya!
Hear me singing, Lord, Kumbaya!
Hear me singing, Lord, Kumbaya!
Oh, Lord! Kumbaya!

Hear me praying, Lord, Kumbaya!
Hear me praying, Lord, Kumbaya!
Hear me praying, Lord, Kumbaya!
Oh, Lord! Kumbaya!

Oh, I need you, Lord, Kumbaya!
Oh, I need you, Lord, Kumbaya!
Oh, I need you, Lord, Kumbaya!
Oh, Lord! Kumbaya!

Shake ’em, Shake ’em


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About the author

Kristina Brooke Daniele is a writer, educator, homeschooler, entrepreneur, avid reader, life-long learner, and advocate for freedom, equality, and justice. She believes that our job as human beings is to leave this world better than when we found it. That is her goal!

View all articles by Kristina Daniele

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