Friday, October 5, 2018

Review: Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love


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.

Ack! Why did this book sit on my TBR (to-be-read) pile for so long? Not because I didn't want to read it: I was intrigued as soon as I got the description from the publicist. I think it was mostly because I wanted to give it my full attention, which is somewhat scattered at most times! It is getting quite a bit of buzz and award discussion already, though, so it was time to open the pages and see if it lived up to my expectations and the chatter.

It did! The very first thing I noticed were the opening end page illustrations, of Julian's Abuela and the other ladies in the pool together. All those different, NORMAL body types, not bikini-model teenagers! I think I fell in love right there*.

Given the premise, I was a little worried the story line would come across as a heavy-handed political agenda. Not that I object to messages in children's books, it's the heavy-handedness that will make me toss a book aside in disgust.

No worries here! Julian sees something that captivates his imagination (and how beautifully are his imaginings rendered!), he uses that imagination to replicate it, and Abuela encourages and supports his creation, through actions more than words. A sweet and important message about individuality and expression that anyone can enjoy. Even those wonderful end pages support the idea of beauty in individuality. All the more impressive when you realize it is Love's first book!

(*The closing end pages feature the same people in the same pool, but envisioned as graceful watercolor mermaids now. Gorgeous!)

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