Julian is a Mermaid is the picture book debut by Californian-born author and illustrator Jessica Love, and it is the latest in a long line of picture books focused on messages of acceptance and individuality to children, a theme which remains timeless with each passing generation.
This particular book tells the story of a young boy called Julian, who loves mermaids. One day, he is riding home from the swimming pool on the subway with his grandmother when he sees three women dressed as mermaids. Completely mesmerised by them, he imagines becoming one himself, which results in him deciding to dress up as one when they get home. But what will his grandmother think of him?
The story here is told mostly through the beautifully rendered pictures, which make up for the admittedly sparse dialogue to a measure. One highlight in particular is the scene where Julian imagines becoming a mermaid, and his tail is formed by a spectacularly colourful array of sea creatures rushing past him. The parade scene at the end is another notable moment of beauty, not just in the superficial sense but what it ultimately comes to represent about the story’s message.
Acceptance has always been a common theme in children’s books for all ages, but this one especially has zeitgeist appeal. In a day and age when children are being encouraged more than ever not to adhere to gender stereotypes, this book certainly makes a hefty contribution to dismantling them in a subtle and understated manner. It helps also that Julian’s grandmother is highly supportive of him, although initially it doesn’t seem that way when she first discovers his dress-up costume. Then again, he does make it out of a plant and one of her curtains.
The author herself – a graduate of the University of California and latterly of Juilliard – is based in Brooklyn, and it seems highly likely that this has influenced the setting and general art style of the book. Overall, it is a solid and promising debut from an author with her finger firmly on the pulse of modern day issues, and it deserves to be enjoyed by as wide an audience as possible.
Images courtesy of Walker Books, who have published Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
Julian is a Mermaid is out now and published by Walker Books.