Picture Book Review: Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
In an exuberant picture book, a glimpse of costumed mermaids leaves one boy flooded with wonder and ready to dazzle the world.
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? Mesmerizing and full of heart, Jessica Love’s author-illustrator debut is a jubilant picture of self-love and a radiant celebration of individuality.
The picture book debut from author-illustrator Jessica Love, Julián is a Mermaid already has multiple starred reviews and critical praise to its name- from publications including The Horn Book and The New York Times Book Review. This picture book title had been on my must-read radar for a few months, after reading multiple rave comments from reviewers and bloggers on social media, and some sneak peaks- needless to say, I was eagerly anticipating this title. And readers, Julián is a Mermaid is a gorgeous, tender, outstanding reading experience.
Jessica Love’s debut is about a young boy named Julián who absolutely loves everything about mermaids. On the subway with his abuela, a book about mermaids open in his lap, he sees three women who are stunningly, amazingly dressed as mermaids- from the tips of their colourful hair to the tails of their gowns. Julián then imagines himself taken under the sea, swept up in a rush of sea life, transforming into a mermaid. He later gets the opportunity to actually turn himself into a mermaid- emulating the real-life mermaids he sees around him- while Abuela goes to take a bath. With great ingenuity, Julián uses various objects around their place- a willowy curtain, plant fronds, and more- to slowly transform himself into a stunning, unforgettable mermaid. Our protagonist’s joy is sharply faded, though, as he wonders and worries what Abuela might say as she sees the mess he has made while bringing his mermaid dream to life. The author takes the story in a truly wonderful direction after a moment of decision hangs in the air: how Julián’s Abuela responds to seeing the mess, and seeing him as a mermaid is something that embraces and touches the core of the heart. (I don’t want to reveal the ending here as I loved being surprised by it, but if you’re curious to read more about the finale, take a read through this wonderfully detailed look in School Library Journal by Elizabeth Bird that talks more in-depth about possible readings of the ending). I have returned to reading and poring over Julián is a Mermaid countless times since my first read. An exploration and deep celebration of a young person’s character, imagination and uniqueness, as well as love and understanding, Julián is a Mermaid is an exceptional read. Whether read aloud, used during storytime, recommended to mermaid enthusiasts, or finding its way to readers of any age who might just need to have Julián’s story in their lives, Julián is a Mermaid should be read, shared, and loved.
Overall, an incredible, radiant picture book. Jessica Love has done a tremendous job here with her debut: the illustrative work is stunning, so saturated and evocative and fluid, and the text is just light enough to let the art and beautiful story shine. I highly recommend taking a read of this title and spending time with Julián, Abuela, and his world. Be sure to take a look at the picture book’s page here, as you’ll be able to get a further inside look!
I received a copy of this title courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.