Swim against the current
BookPage Children's Top Pick, June 2018
A boy named Julián and his abuela hop on the subway, where he sees three glamorous women dressed as mermaids. Julián is transfixed; he loves mermaids. In the three spreads that follow, we are swept up in Julián’s reverie: We see the subway car become an ocean and fill with colorful sea creatures. They sweep Julián along until he’s a mermaid himself.
Once home, the inspired Julián makes his own mermaid costume. The curtains become his dress, a fern becomes his hair and lipstick is applied. When Abuela enters the room, she takes it all in wordlessly, and Julián’s triumphant stance becomes one of a defeated boy, sure he’ll be shamed. Instead, Abuela brings Julián a string of pearls and takes him to the Coney Island Mermaid Parade, ushering him without judgment into a world of people like him. Julián parades exuberantly with his fellow mermaids, knowing that Abuela, always by his side, recognizes and accepts him for who he is.
Jessica Love’s vivid watercolor and gouache illustrations are made even brighter by her decision to paint on brown paper; the richly colored palette pops off the pages, and abundant character is conveyed via the subtlest of facial expressions and body language. Also subtle—and terrifically poignant—is the eloquent encouragement of Abuela’s spare words. A book for the ages, Julián Is a Mermaid is going to make a big splash.
Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.
This article was originally published in the June 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.