Archived May 2018

May’s Big Picture

Julián Is a Mermaid

written and illus. by Jessica Love

Most people, old and young alike, understand the joy of pretend and dressup, but not every adult will understand every kid’s specific costuming desires. That’s the issue at hand for young Julián, who decides he’s a mermaid.

On the subway home from a pool trip with his abuela, Julián encounters three women dressed as mermaids, and he is instantly enthralled. In his imagination, he slips into the sea-green waters, slides off his everyday kid togs, and grows his hair and a beautiful golden tail; he cavorts with fish large and small, and he receives a string of ceremonial beads from an elegantly patterned elder fish. Snapped back to reality when the journey ends, he waves goodbye to the mermaids and chatters to his grandmother about them (“Abuela, I am also a mermaid”). Once back at his grandma’s, he takes advantage of her time in the bath to dress himself up accordingly, making do with a purloined curtain for a tail and a houseplant-based headpiece (ferny, seaweedy leaves with floral accents). When his abuela emerges from the bath and catches him mid-prance, her silent stare initially seems to bode ill. Then she gives him benediction in the form of a string of lovely beads, and she takes him out to the beach costume extravaganza that was the subway mermaids’ destination so that he can join all the other resplendent merpeople.

The spare text is spooled out deftly, with an opener that neatly sets the situation up: “This is a boy named Julián. And this is his abuela. And those are some mermaids.” Most of the text is brief dialogue between Julián and Abuela, and many pages are entirely wordless, yet within the story is wealth of subtext about adult love and acceptance of youthful yearnings. While the book will speak particularly clearly to youngsters who chafe at the pressure of gender conformity, the story of a kid who’s gone over the top with Grandma’s stuff and knows the risk he’s run is resonant in its own right.

The luminous, lovely, and layered art is what really makes the book. Author-illustrator Love’s watercolor, ink, and gouache illustrations glow against a soft cocoa-toned background, and there’s an Afro-Caribbean flair in skin tone, language, and the juicy color and floral patterns that run through the scenes. The portraiture is fluid and exquisite, whether it’s the celebration of curvy Abuela and her swimming-capped water aerobics cohort in their vibrant patterned suits, the vivid particularity of folks young and old on the hot city street, or the glamorous mermaids, with sweeps of aqua for their bodies and gorgeous ruffles and cascades of hair. Love does a particularly fine job with the face of Abuela, a reticent woman whose years have left her with Resting Skeptical Face that changes almost imperceptibly when she blesses her grandson’s dreams. Look even deeper into the illustrative waters, however, and you’ll see some clever thematic craftsmanship. The liquid motif continues throughout, from the swimming pool, to a spraying hydrant, to Abuela’s bath, to the final beach venue, and to a delightful closing endpaper that transforms Abuela and her friends into mermaids along with Julián. Sharp-eyed viewers will also notice that the bead-granting fish in Julián’s fantasy sequence sports the same patterned blue livery that Abuela dons after her bath, and that the beads she gives him are a clear real-world iteration of his imagined gems.

The concluding parade is a confectionary wonder of marine fantasy that many kids will yearn to join, and it might prompt adults to set up their own in- library mermaid celebrations. More importantly, though, those who’ve been shy about their love for dazzle and showmanship will love the idea of a formidable grandparental ally, and they will find this encouraging and empowering. (See p. 391 for publication information.)

Deborah Stevenson, Editor


May Stars

AVERBECK, JIM     Two Problems for Sophia; illus. by Yasmeen Ismail.     McElderry, 2018  [34p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-4814-7788-8     $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-4814-7789-5     $10.99
Reviewed from galleys       R*     5-8 yrs

GARBER, STEPHANIE     Legendary.     Flatiron, 2018     [416p]     (Caraval)
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-250-09531-2     $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-250-09533-6     $9.99
Reviewed from galleys          R*      Gr. 7-10HOWELL, TROY    Whale in a Fishbowl; illus. by Richard Jones.     Schwartz & Wade, 2018    [34p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-5247-1518-2   $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-5247-1520-5     $10.99
Reviewed from galleys     R*          6-9 yrs

IRELAND, JUSTINA     Dread Nation.     Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, 2018     [464p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-06-257060-4     $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-06-257062-8
Reviewed from galleys          R*     Gr. 9-12

LEGRAND, CLAIRE     Furyborn.     Sourcebooks Fire, 2018      [512p]     (The Empirium Trilogy)
ISBN 978-1-4926-5662-3     $17.99
Reviewed from galleys          R*      Gr. 9-12

LOVE, JESSICA     Julián Is a Mermaid; written and illus. by Jessica Love.     Candlewick, 2018     [34p]
ISBN 978-0-7636-9045-8     $16.99
Reviewed from galleys          R*     4-8 yrs

PEÑAFLOR, LYGIA DAY     All of This Is True.     HarperTeen/HarperCollins, 2018     [432p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-06-267365-7     $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-06-267367-1     $8.99
Reviewed from galleys          R*      Gr. 8-12

PERKINS, LYNNE RAE     Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea; written and illus. by Lynne Rae Perkins.     Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2018      [240p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-06-249966-0     $16.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-06-249968-4     $9.99
Reviewed from galleys          R*     Gr. 2-4

ROSENSTOCK, BARB      Otis and Will Discover the Deep: The Record-Setting Dive of the Bathysphere; illus. by Katherine Roy.      Little, 2018      [42p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-316-39382-9     $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-316-39379-9     $9.99
Reviewed from galleys          R*      5-8 yrs

SALES, LEILA     If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say.     Farrar, 2018     [336p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-374-38099-1     $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-374-38100-4     $9.99
Reviewed from galleys         R*     Gr. 8-12

SELL, CHAD     The Cardboard Kingdom; by Chad Sell, David DeMeo, and Jay Fuller et al.; illus. by Chad Sell.     Knopf, 2018      [288p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-5247-1937-1     $18.99
Paper ed. ISBN 978-1-5247-1938-8     $12.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-5247-1939-5     $9.99
Reviewed from galleys          R*      Gr. 4-7

YANG, KELLY     Front Desk.     Levine/Scholastic, 2018     [304p]
ISBN 978-1-338-15779-6     $16.99
Reviewed from galleys          R*     Gr. 4-7