By Jessica Love
Young children should be ‘exposed’ to unconditional love and acceptance, and messages from responsible adults along those lines. Written by Jessica Love, this gem of a book certainly lives up to the creator’s surname, and is bursting with love and acceptance on every page.
‘Julian is a Mermaid’ is glorious picture book telling the story of Julian, a spirited child living in New York City with a Grandmother who clearly comes form the ‘Fairy Godmother’ school of Grandparenting.
One day on the subway, Julian is inspired by women dressed as mermaids and declares a wish to also be a mermaid. When back at Grandma’s house, Julian fashions a fabulous ensemble out of Grandma’s home furnishings. Rather than shame Julian’s creativity and femininity, Grandma offers some sparkly accessories to complete the outfit, and insists that they both go out and take this outfit for a spin. There they both find themselves marching with other similarly attired people, as they all celebrate their unique and beautiful selves.
Jessica Love is truly creative soul, humble, kindly, and touchingly surprised by her own success. Inspired by the city she made home, and all the people in it, she created this book, words pictures and all, in between acting, theatre and waitressing jobs. ‘I see stories in pictures first…’ she told me, and it shows. The illustrations are rich, engaging and a joy to behold.
Jessica told me about the trans people she knows and loves, and there are obvious parallels between Julian’s being a mermaid and gender euphoria. Wonderfully, this story will certainly speak volumes to trans kids and their families, but it’s appeal won’t stop there. Children hear stories of magical transformation fairly regularly, so to see one a little closer to home is inspiring within itself. Trans women and femmes of colour are disproportionately affected by the most horrific violence, so to see Julian so supported by Grandma honours the vital truth that we are all of equal worth and value, and that, if we let it, love will show the way.
The friends of mine who are parents (people who are predominantly cisgender and heterosexual) tell me that they read this book to their children frequently, and it is loved more and more each time. It’s abundantly clear that diverse and representative characters in books (as well as tv, theatre and film) have as broad appeal as any other. They tell stories that we all need to hear, particularly as many of these stories have (quite scandalously) been previously denied a platform.
This is a book all LGBTQ+ children need to read, whether their childhood is happening now, or if it finished a long time ago. Many LGBTQ+ people were denied such affirmation and kindness, so, if you can bear it, give yourself a brief time to go back, and be the person you needed when you were younger. This book will serve as an excellent roadmap. Go on, treat yourself…be a mermaid!
Review © Jezza Donovan 2019