There is a dire need for our children’s books to reflect the diversity and understanding of modern society. As children struggle with issues that we weren’t even aware of when we were kids, they need to see positive reflections of themselves to help them develop self-worth and a sense of identity.
Jessica Love has written and illustrated one such book with the heart-warming Julian is a Mermaid. Tacking issues of gender norms and acceptance, it tells the simple story of young Julian who sees three beautiful women on the train while travelling home with his grandmother. He is taken by their long, flowing hair and grace, which sparks his imagination. In his mind, they are beautiful mermaids and he imagines what it would be like to become one.
At home, Julian’s creativity helps him fashion his own mermaid costume from plants and curtains and he dances around the house until found by his nana. Her response is to take Julian to a seaside carnival where he can see he his not alone and that people of all ages and backgrounds enjoy dressing up too.
The story can be interpreted in several ways, from normalising gender identity issues to simply being a game of play acting and childhood imagination. This open interpretation makes the book ideal for all children and provides opportunity for adults to discuss whichever issues are relevant to their own child.
Not every page has text. In fact, there’s very few words in the book. Jessica Love’s illustrations tell much of the tale and they are beautiful. They are colourful, racially inclusive, depict people with different body types, and, consequently, offer much to discuss outside of the immediate story too.
The thick paper and hard cover add to the durability of this timeless and timely picture book, which is aimed at ages 4 and up. It’s magnificent and possibly one of the best things I’ve read all year.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Rating out of 10: 10
Distributed by: Walker Books Australia and New Zealand
Released: July 2018
RRP: $24.99 hardcover