A few months ago, I had the good fortune of hearing Betsy Bird speak about her favorite newly-released and soon-to-be released picture books. When she described the mesmerizing illustrations in Julián Is a Mermaid, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy.
Title: Julián Is a Mermaid
Written and illustrated by: Jessica Love
Candlewick Press, 2018, fiction
For ages: 4 and up
Themes/topics: individuality; embracing differences; self-love; unconditional love; mermaids; parades; gender fluidity/nonconformity
This is a boy named Julián. And this is his abuela. And those are some mermaids.
Julián LOVES mermaids.
Summary (from the publisher): “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 butter-yellow 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?”
Why I LOVE this book: Let’s start with the end papers. The front endpapers show some older women, with very real and individual and solid bodies, floating in a pool. A little boy, Julián, swims underwater, his eyes trained on something only he can see. The title page shows Julián and his abuela walking from the pool to the subway tailed by three glorious mermaids. They share the subway car with Julián and his abuela. We leave the subway car behind for three dreamy wordless spreads in which Julián sheds his street clothes, grows his hair into cascading curls, and transforms into a mermaid with a vivid tail. A large blue-patterned fish even gives him a necklace. At home, while abuela takes a bath, Julián uses what he finds in the apartment to transform for real. When his abuela emerges from the bath and sees him, her look is unreadable, and the text says simply “Oh!” and then Uh-oh. Julián has a moment of doubt, his shoulders sagging as he gazes in the mirror. But when she comes back in a blue-patterned dress, she gives him a necklace and they head out the door and to the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. And it’s glorious. (And be sure to check out the back endpapers!)
Additional resources: You should absolutely read Betsy Bird’s review of this book. In her hands, book reviews are an art form. And because Julián Is a Mermaid captivated Betsy, her review of this title is especially captivating: http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2018/01/05/review-of-the-day-julian-is-a-mermaid-by-jessica-love/
(For a collection of picture book reviews, along with resources, please visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s site: http://susannahill.com/for-teachers-and-parents/perfect-picture-books/.)