Julián Is a Mermaid, illustrated and written by Jessica Love, published by Candlewick, ISBN: 978-0763690458 (ARC reviewed).
Some picture books feel like instant classics. You look at the art and immerse yourself in the book’s world and by the end, you cannot think of the world without the book. Julián Is a Mermaid, released on April 23, 2018, joins this esteemed list. I know this seems like an over-the-top compliment, but seriously, this wondrous work has earned these raves, this praise, all the starred reviews. Julián introduces the reader to a boy does not wish to conform to gender standards. He sees three elegant women dressed as mermaids on the train, and their costumes and hair enchant him. Soon we discover that he too wishes to be a mermaid. Jessica Love’s loving and brilliant watercolor, gouache, and ink illustrations do a fabulous job capturing his worldview. We see him imagining himself as a mermaid in a series of underwater images. His hair grows longer, and after a swirl of fish swim around him, he magically has a tail. His abuela snaps him out of his reverie when they reach their train stop. As they walk home on a city sidewalk we see three young girls cooling themselves off with water from a fire hydrant, and just look at how Love excels at body language and showing the movement of the splashing water.
After Julián and his abuela arrive at their home, she heads off to take a bath and tells him “You be good” (I love Love’s spare text, not a word wasted). Julián gives a sly mischievous look at the reader–“Julián has a good idea” the narrator says. He kicks off a sandal and suddenly we watch him change himself into a mermaid by putting part of a plotted pant on his head, flowers from a vase in the headdress, and taking a yellow curtain down to use as a tail. When abuela emerges and sees the now transformed Julián, we think there will be trouble. Uh-oh, the narrator writes as Julián goes from looking triumphant to worried. But then in a beautiful moment, we discover that abuela more than accepts mermaid Julián. She’s the coolest abuela ever.
The book ends with a parade, a celebration, slightly surreal but positively heartwarming. And the fitting ending for a book that deserves to be celebrated.