By Natasha van Bentum

Tails, fins and fun

A new children’s fable written by Henri van Bentum. Illustrations by PJ Heyliger

“Professor Sea Turtle hurries on his way to the Reef nursery to teach the basics of ocean life.” Illustration from King Neptune’s Jewels with Tails and Fins, a children’s fable written by James Bay resident Henri van Bentum. Illustrations by PJ Heyliger.

Fintastic!” exclaimed one reviewer about the new children’s fable written by 87-year old James Bay resident and international artist Henri van Bentum.

A whimsical visit to a coral reef – complete with mermaids

Henri van Bentum with book'hot off the press' at Island Blue Printorium

King Neptune’s Jewels with Tails and Fins” is a whimsical and delightful fantasy visit to the realm of tropical fish in a coral reef, complete with King Neptune, mermaids, Moray eels, nudibranchs, parrotfish, seahorses, and other creatures.  

It’s a printed, softcover book of 30 pages.  van Bentum, a recent cancer survivor, wrote the story, while PJ Heyliger did the illustrations.



How the book came about is a story in itself

Seventeen years ago, Henri was guest artist aboard an ocean liner sailing around the world to mark the millennium 2000. 

Two of his passengers/students were a couple from Colorado. Her nickname was “PJ”. Together they faithfully attended each class for the entire 4 ½ months of the cruise.  Henri’s classes started with exercises at a beginner level and led up gradually to an intermediate, then advanced level as the voyage progressed.

Only later did Henri van Bentum learn PJ Heyliger was an accomplished artist herself with an M.A. in Fine Arts and several exhibitions under her belt. However she humbly revealed nothing about her background and did all the exercises including the beginner assignments.

Fast Forward 14 years

Over the years, Henri and his wife Natasha stayed in touch with PJ and her husband, who live in Arizona. In 2014 they were invited to cat-sit at their home, while PJ and her husband went snorkelling in Belize.

Out of the blue one day in mid-2016, PJ emailed Henri and asked if he might consider writing a children’s story about coral reef life. She wanted to create a series of paintings on this theme, and remembered a few years ago that van Bentum published several of his children’s stories, or Apologues, as an eBook.  (See James Bay Beacon, January 2013 – “The Painter Who Writes Fairy Tales”.)

And so this collaborative partnership was born, and “King Neptune’s Jewels with Tails and Fins” was released in early December.

Story reveals how the fish and other creatures got their beautiful colours

The book tells about a long, long time ago when everything had color, except the fish and coral in the ocean.  King Neptune and the mermaids were called upon to paint and design them.

Neptune grinds and stirs the pigments, while the mermaids cover the ‘blank’ bodies of the fish.  This metamorphosis, from bare to colourful designs, is joyfully and whimsically interpreted by the illustrator PJ.

The Book Embraces Henri van Bentum’s Philosophy of Using only the Primary Colours:  Red, Yellow and Blue to Create all the Colours of the Rainbow

In keeping with Henri van Bentum’s teaching and philosophy of using only the three primary colours (red, yellow and blue), all the colours are created from just the primaries.

 King Neptune with some of the coral reef residents. Illustration by PJ Heyliger.

The book features Manta Rays at play, a Professor Sea Turtle heading to a Reef nursery to teach “Coralogy” and the basics of ocean life, Sea Horses, Nudibranchs, Clownfish and many other creatures of the ocean.

King Neptune’s Jewels with Tails and Fins” is also educational. Children learn about sea life, coral reefs and the harmful effects on their precarious survival by overfishing, pollution, and global warming.

As another review put it, “Fins, Tails and Fun!”

King Neptune’s Jewels with Tails and Fins”, softcover, 30 pages.  Available at

Professor Sea Turtle: Illustration by PJ Heyliger.

Henri van Bentum is an international artist whose work is represented in several hundred public and private collections around the world.  He has participated in several snorkeling expeditions to coral reefs in remote parts of the globe. Henri’s collaborative project with NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory, “Coloring Space”, can be viewed from his website