A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love is a story about a boy who wants to be a mermaid that will resonate with all kids who have secret dreams. Julián shares his dream and identity with his abuela, but when he first tries dressing as a mermaid, he does it when he's alone. There's definite tension when we don't know how Abuela will react. But when she brings him to a parade where everyone's dressed in similar costumes, there's relief that Julián has found his tribe. Author-illustrator Love depicts a vibrant community where everyone's brown-skinned. There's not a lot of text, with much of the story revealed via art. Parents might also be interested to know that the Mermaid Parade is a real event: an annual, spirited spectacle that ushers in summer at New York City's Coney Island.
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What's the story?
In JULIAN IS A MERMAID, Julián spies some women on the subway who are dressed like mermaids. In three wordless spreads, he imagines himself transforming into a mermaid and receiving the gift of a necklace from a big, patterned fish. When they get home, Julian tells his grandma, "Abuela, I am also a mermaid," but she doesn't respond, and goes off to take a bath. Alone, Julián fixes ferns and flowers to his hair, puts on lipstick, and ties a sheer, billowy curtain around his waist as a mermaid tail. When Abuela returns, she looks stern. Is she cross? But then she presents him with a necklace, and takes him to a parade where everyone's dressed like mermaids and sea creatures. "'Like you, mijo. Let's join them.' And they do."
Is it any good?
In this delightful, mermaid-themed heartwarmer, gender is as fluid as the sea Julián dreams of swimming in. There's so much to praise in Julián Is a Mermaid, beginning with its original handling of the subject. This is no formulaic "it's fine for boys to be mermaids" story. Julián's imaginative transformation into a mermaid, and his actual transformation via costume, are conveyed via art alone. And by handling most of the story visually, author-illustrator Jessica Love avoids text that might clang or seem preachy. Love sets her story in a neighborhood that's urban -- Julián and Abuela take the subway, and girls cavort in a fire hydrant sprinkler -- but she slyly shows us that they also live near the ocean: That's a seagull, not a pigeon, strutting on the sidewalk.
The residents of the neighborhood are all brown-skinned, with characters who seem so real, we feel we've met them before. The opening art shows five older women in a pool, looking endearingly lumpy in their loudly patterned swimsuits. Abuela, with her lined face and seen-it-all, often inscrutable expression, is a character study in stern, no-nonsense love, and there's real dramatic tension when she discovers Julián dressed as mermaid. Is he in trouble? Julián's shyness as he hesitates behind the corner of the parade tugs at the heart. And Love fills the pages with sweet detail -- when Julián gazes in the mirror, he sees his mermaid self; the fantasy fish who bestows him his necklace has the same pattern as Abuela's summer shift. Start to finish, this story of gender and identity is a pleasure.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the mermaids in Julián Is a Mermaid. Why do you think the women on the subway were dressed as mermaids? Do you have parades or celebrations in your city or town in which people dress up in a certain way?
When Julián's abuela finds him dressed as a mermaid, and he says "uh oh," what did you think would happen? Were you worried? Why?
In the pictures with no words, what is Julián imagining and doing? Why do you think those pictures have no words? What do you think he likes about being a mermaid? Do you like those things?
- Author: Jessica Love
- Illustrator: Jessica Love
- Genre: Picture Book
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More, Arts and Dance, Great Boy Role Models, Ocean Creatures
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Candlewick Press
- Publication date: May 22, 2018
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 4 - 8
- Number of pages: 40
- Available on: Hardback
- Award: ALA Best and Notable Books
- Last updated: January 28, 2019
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