Written and illustrated by Jessica Love (Walker Books)
Julian is a Mermaid is a beautiful and powerful book about finding the safe space to joyfully and jubilantly be yourself. On the train home one day with his Nana (grandmother), Julian sees three woman dressed up in dazzling mermaid costumes. He is enthralled.
Their exuberance, self confidence and joyful power fill the carriage and Julian’s imagination is piqued. As the train rides he reads his book and drifts off into a brightly coloured daydream that he too is a mermaid. Gorgeous illustrations show the transformation as he sheds his clothes and spins and twirls underwater as he bubbles with the freedom of being a brilliant vision of himself.
When he gets home with his Nana he tells her “Nana, I am also a mermaid.” It is like he has deeply recognized something about himself. She goes off to bath telling him to be good. What follows is a beautifully illustrated moment of creative energy – Julian pulls together a mermaid outfit from the flamboyantly curling fronds of a fern plant mixed with bright flowers, a lace curtain and some lipstick.
When his Nana sees him we are left on tenterhooks – will she shout? Will she laugh?
Author Love says, ‘If you’re a boy who likes to play dress-up in dresses, you might see yourself in Julián, or if you’re someone born in a body that doesn’t feel like yours, I want you to see yourself in Julián.’
Julian is a Mermaid will also appeal to parents who want their children to know that dressing up in clothes that are traditionally assigned to another gender is cool. Boys as princesses, girls as pirates and anything else that grabs their fancy. We don’t need to to control their imagination and there is no need to assign gender roles to everything. Here’s to more boys and girls dressing up in whatever catches their shiny imaginations!
For an in-depth understanding of Love’s illustration and design choices check this out.
PS: In the American edition the characters are seen as Afro-Cuban with the spelling as Julián and the Nana being Abuela.