Many of my colleagues, both at BookPeople and at ShelfTalker, are off at BEA this week, discovering new books and enjoying some time with friends and colleagues. I wasn’t able to get away this week due to my family’s schedule, but we’re still having a lot of fun here at home.This Tuesday we were joined by fabulous Drag Queens Honey St. Claire, Louisianna Purchase and Mascara Rivers along with Drag King Papi Churro and over 60 listeners for our second successful Drag Queen (and King) Storytime. And it was fantastic! One of the books they featured for their event was the dazzling Julián Is a Mermaid, a book that’s not only perfect for this event but that honestly takes my breath away. I am certainly not the first person to rave about this book, but it’s worthy of all the ecstatic buzz. Not only is the book stunning, with radiant aquas and greens and corals bursting from the book’s warm brown pages, but its intimate celebration of creativity and individuality captures something astonishingly poignant and tender.
You see, Julián LOVES mermaids. He can’t believe his luck when he spies three costumed mermaids on the subway with his abuela. When he gets home, he follows their lead, using everything at his disposal (anything he can raid from his grandmother’s home decor) to transform himself too. When his grandmother sees what he has done, her unflappable acceptance and love and for him is obvious and perfect. She simply loans him one last accessory and takes him to join a parade of gloriously bedazzled, fishtailed revelers, each embracing their proud inner mermaid. Every single page offers something special (the illustration of his imagined adventures among a swirling school of sea creatures is a showstopper), but I have to say there’s something I really love about the spread where Julián arrives at the mermaid procession and peers expectantly around the corner, his posture taut with anticipation and excitement. In that moment the reader can clearly see that his homemade costume is both completely right for the spirit of the celebration and an authentically childlike imitation of some of the fancier fashion on display. You can also see that his abuela’s attention is 100% on Julián as she waits for him to let himself join in, and you can feel the safety and promise of that rock solid support.
I am a sucker for clever endpapers that add something extra to the experience of a book, and these are especially fun. Opening on Julián, his abuela, and her friends at a local pool in their bathing suits and caps, it closes with the same group reimagined as mermaids. And there’s Julián with glorious, streaming mermaid hair. Does Julián imagine himself like this all the time or just when he’s dreaming of his mermaid persona? This book doesn’t lay all of that out or step out of Julián’s immediate experience on this special day, and it feels unnecessary to do so. The text could not be simpler or more matter-of-fact: “This is a boy named Julián. And this is his abuela, And those are some mermaids.” But under, in between, and around those simple words, the meaning and magic of Julián’s sweet story soars.
In honor of Julián Is a Mermaid and the beginning of Pride Month—which officially begins today—here is a trio of books that I also recommend for their explorations of individuality, identity, and self-expression.
George by Alex Gino
I love this uplifting, personal look at one kid’s struggle to be herself despite how others see her. Yearning to play Charlotte in the school production of Charlotte’s Web despite the preconceptions of others, George’s journey navigates complex territory with utter simplicity. George’s story will resonate with anyone who has ever felt different. The most impressive thing about this book is how simple and undeniable George’s true identity feels here and how much you root for her to let it out.
Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake
The book opens with a whirlwind of action and tumult as a tornado rampages through Ivy’s home, destroying her sense of safety and structure, and whisking her secret sketchbook out into unknown hands. On top of everything else that’s changed, now someone out there knows all the feelings she’s been hiding—feelings she’s barely acknowledged to herself, let alone her family or friends. This is a moving and beautifully written portrait of a girl coming into her own, finding her voice, and learning to embrace her true self.
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice & Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
Irreverent wit and smoldering romance (not to mention the highwaymen and dark alchemical experiments) make this aristocratic Grand Tour of Europe an intoxicating, memorable ride. Get ready to swoon over the heat between Henry Montague and his best friend Percy, but the whole book also reads as an ode to self-determination as Percy, Henry, and his science-loving sister all confront and ultimately defy society’s expectations of who they should be.
What do you recommend?