The Spectacled Siren



(Young adult novel 10+, Kolibri, 2016, 107 pages)
Illustrations by Gergő Gilicze

A beautiful tale about friendship, family, courage and the love for all living things, inspired by the otherworldly landscape of Iceland, its lighthouses and endless seas.

Atlanta lives on a small, faraway island in a lighthouse. When she is not chatting on radio with her teacher Kamilla from the village on the coast, or listening to the jazz records of her father, she usually sits by the window and looks out on the stormy waters and the horizon. But one day a peculiar guest arrives to Windridge, taking Atlanta on an adventurous journey that even her famous sailor ancestors would be proud of…

The heroes of the first young adult novel by Mátyás Dunajcsik are mysterious birds, globe-trotting ghosts and gay ex-whalers, inspired by the years the author has spent living in Iceland.

The illustrations include front and back covers, endpapers, 12 full-page drawings for each chapter and 47 smaller drawings throughout the text.

A complete English version of the book is available, translated by the author and proofread by native speakers of English.


“Mátyás Dunajcsik proved to me that it is possible to write for kids in a normal tone, without condescension. […] I have no idea what was it that he put in the story – maybe the red currant jam? –, but every little emotion and every sentence of the characters is so real and unpretentious that even now my heart aches a little when I think back on all these nice people I’ve come to know in the book. […] Ships, ghosts, birds, pancakes – everything was in place. As much as the winds named after animals, or the types of waves named after famous jazz musicians. […] I won’t deliberate on the message of the book, but I can tell you that it’s clever and bright, and it’s about the relationship of man and nature.”
Bookworm Katacita

“The first young adult novel of Mátyás Dunajcsik is beautiful from the beginning to the end, upside down and from whatever angle you’re looking at it. The composition of the text, its rhythm, the descriptions, the story, the illustrations, every little detail is in place. It’s fascinating and enchanting, taking you into the exciting world of Iceland and its lighthouses, to the mysterious realm of the winds and the sea. […] There is a lot of talk about jazz music in the book. Maybe the beauty of the text can be best described by comparing it to jazz music too. Because just like an excellent jazz piece, The Spectacled Siren also gets under your skin slowly, and then starts circulating in your veins. And once it’s inside, it doesn’t go away, but shows newer and newer shades of itself. What seems simple soon turns out to be painted with a rich palette, revealing its layers one by one as the story progresses.”

(with spoilers)

Atlanta is a young girl living alone with her father in a lighthouse on a solitary island not far from the coastal village called Cat Valley. They moved there three years ago after the death of Atlanta’s mother, and even though they maintain a close and loving relationship, her father has been quite aloof and distant ever since, absorbed in the chess matches he plays through radio with other lighthouse keepers. So Atlanta usually amuses herself by eyeing the distant waters from the top of the tower, giving animal names to the different types of winds and categorising the weather according to famous jazz standards from her father’s record collection, describing the state of the ocean with the songs of Nina Simone, Thelonious Monk, Chet Baker or Leonard Cohen.

The story begins on the 12th birthday of Atlanta, when she receives an antique telescope that belonged to her great-grandfather Sindbad, a famous captain and explorer who led scientific expeditions all around the world before being lost at sea with his crew. It is during the night of her birthday, with the help of her new telescope, that she sees the Ghost Ship for the first time: a huge, ancient vessel near an uninhabited little island in the distance, known as the Blackstone. Soon she learns that the spectral boat usually appears under the full moon, and because of its haunting no one dared to go near the Blackstone in the last hundred years.

Atlanta also is warned never to go there, but when some weeks later a baby seagull is blown to the windowsill of the lighthouse and it becomes clear that he belongs to the great bird colony residing on the forbidden island, the little girl decides to ignore the threat and set off to the ocean by herself to take the baby bird home. Due to a miscalculation, she forgets that it’s the time of the full moon, and soon enough encounters the Ghost Ship on her journey.

But just as the hideous ghosts are ready to attack her, it turns out that they are more friend than foe, since the ghost captain is in fact Atlanta’s great-grandfather Sindbad. Settled in the captain’s quarters, the friendly ghosts tell the little girl their story, from which she learns that the crew is a group of natural scientists who decided to stay in the world of the living in order to protect a special species of bird that lives on the Blackstone: the rainbow gulls, who look like ordinary seagulls most of the time, but show extraordinary colours in their plumage when under the light of the full moon.

Together they continue their journey towards the Blackstone to deliver the lost baby bird to his mother, but just when their mission is accomplished, a supposed poacher boat appears on the misty waters, enraging the ghosts. A terrible chase ensues in which they even fire an old naval cannon on the enemy boat, just before realising that it is in fact the whale watching ship of Atlanta’s friends, Erik and Ragnar, who are no threat to the rainbow gulls, but have come to look for Atlanta.

When the conflict is resolved and Atlanta introduces her saviours to her new friends, they all set off homewards to the lighthouse to reunite Atlanta with her anxious father, and it is also decided that Erik and Ragnar will take on the task of protecting the mysterious birds of the Blackstone, so that the ghost crew finally can join their loved ones on the other side of the otherworldly seas.