Review of Julián Is a Mermaid

Julián Is a Mermaid
by Jessica Love; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Candlewick    40 pp.    g
5/18    978-0-7636-9045-8    $16.99

The story begins on the front endpapers with a group of older women in a pool and a boy swimming underwater. The next spread (on the copyright and title pages) shows the child, Julián, walking to the subway with one of the women, his abuela, followed by three magnificent-looking people dressed as mermaids. Julián loves mermaids, and this encounter leads him into a daydream where he dives deep into the water, shedding clothes and transforming himself into a mermaid. Arriving home, Julián creates a makeshift mermaid outfit from household objects (including the leaves of a houseplant and window curtains) and puts on lipstick. When Abuela discovers Julián in mermaid attire, there’s a very slight narrative pause: “‘Oh!’ Uh-oh.” How will Abuela react? Happily, it’s all good: Abuela gives Julián a string of beads to complete the outfit, then the two walk proudly arm in arm toward a festive parade, joining others joyfully dressed as mermaids, stingrays, and other sea creatures (à la Coney Island’s Mermaid Parade). Julián’s emotional journey takes on depth through the small but important details: a wary look in the mirror, a slight inward slump of the shoulders, a chin held high while marching down the street. Love uses vibrant watercolors with gouache and ink and a lively style to create scenes that splash and swirl to life on the page.

From the May/June 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Making a Difference.
Minh Lê
Minh Lê
Minh Lê is the author of Drawn Together, illustrated by Dan Santat, and Let Me Finish!, illustrated by Isabel Roxas. He blogs about children's literature at Bottom Shelf Books and writes and reviews for a variety of publications, including the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and The Horn Book Magazine. He served on the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee.

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