“In an exuberant picture book, a glimpse of costumed mermaids leaves one boy flooded with wonder and ready to dazzle the world … ” – [X]
Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love is one of my favourite picturebooks that I’ve serendipitously discovered at my work.
Julián and his abuela are travelling on a city train when Julián spots three women with the most glittery gowns in their car. The women’s hair is flowy, their makeup is impeccable, their posture dramatic, and they remind Julián of mermaids.
When he and his abuela reach home, Julián tries to turn his daydream of being a mermaid into reality. Borrowing from his grandmother’s closet, Julián transports himself under the sea, where he too can flow and gleam and be who he really is. But his play acting comes to an abrupt end when his abuela comes into his room and finds him in a gown and floral headdress. What happens next turns this already lovely picturebook into a unique, heartwarming tale about an afro-latino child and his grandmother, finding each other and finding community.
This is the kind of picturebook I truly adore. Bright colours, beautiful art style, and few–oh, so few–words. I’ve found that a lot of recent picturebooks don’t get that they are catering primarily to a young audience. Yes, they get read to, but there are only so many things to look at on the page, and once the toddlers are done looking do you really thing they care how pretty and elaborate your metaphors are? Nope. They want story. They want beauty. They want words that trip off the tongue without tangent. This picturebook delivers on all fronts.
There is plenty of gorgeous details to gaze at and short, powerful sentences that move the scenes along. There are long quiet stretches where Julián gets to dive into his world and readers get to take the plunge with him. And then there are the sweet dialogues that will have the adults choking up and the kids learning that yes, there is a place for me, and I have people who will look out for me no matter what. All in about 38 pages and just as many words. It’s simple and absolutely unforgettable.
I may be talking about Julián Is a Mermaid during Pride month, but this is a classic that goes beyond petty constructs like gender and also, time. Highly recommended to any adult who has a little one in their life.
Or, like me, just wants to have a good cry once in a while.