Title: Julián Is a Mermaid
Author & Illustrator: Jessica Love
Publisher: Candlewick, 2018
Themes: LGBTQIA, gender expression, diversity, mermaids, boys, nonconformity, unconditional love, afro-latinx, Coney Island Mermaid Parade, individuality, self-love
Awards: ALA, Stonewall Picture Book Award, 2019
This is a boy named Julián. And this is his Abuela. And those are some mermaids.
While riding the subway home from the pool with his abuela one day, Julián notices three women spectacularly dressed up. Their hair billows in brilliant hues, their dresses end in fishtails, and their joy fills the train car. When Julián gets home, daydreaming of the magic he’s seen, all he can think about is dressing up just like the ladies in his own fabulous mermaid costume: a periwinkle curtain for his tail, the fronds of a potted fern for his headdress. But what will Abuela think about the mess he makes — and even more importantly, what will she think about how Julián sees himself? (publisher)
Why I like this book:
Julián’s story is about figuring out who you are and then, maybe even more importantly, finding your people. I know how huge it was to me when I finally found my gay tribe as an adult and discovering that I was not alone. How wonderful that very young boys and girls are able to do that via the pages of a book so full of heart like this one. Of course, realizing that you aren’t alone, is not a prerogative of the queer community; every child and adult should be able to have that sense of belonging
I love Love’s palate in watercolor, gouache, and ink, and the beautiful flow she manages from image to image. Every character is fully realized, even all those in the wonderful Mermaid Parade. There are so many story aspects in the illustrations it is easy to miss them. Check out the end papers (I always do). At the beginning we see Julián swimming beneath his abuela and her friends in the local swimming pool. At the end of the book everyone is a mermaid, not just Julian, and we are all immersed with them in the green pool water. There are four wordless spreads, where words would have been completely superfluous as the illustrations more than show us the joyous progression in Julian’s mind of his own mermaid transformation.
I’m in love with the beautiful Abuela. The gesture of a gift of pure unconditional love by Abuela when she discovers her grandson dressed up as a mermaid, is surpassed only by her gift of taking him to join his people. “Like you, mijo”, she says. “Let’s join them.” And yes, I cried. This is a book most worthy of a Stonewall Award. And this was her first book. Just, wow! I also think I loved this story because it reflects so much of what I love about New York City.
A book for everyone. Share this book with as many people as you can!