JULIÁN IS A MERMAID Written and illustrated by Jessica Love (Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
Julián is a Mermaid, by Jessica Love, is a brilliant debut picture book. As Julián and his abuela leave the public pool, they share the subway ride with some women dressed as mermaids. Julián loves mermaids and feels he is one too. He demonstrates this while his abuela’s away taking a bath. At the crucial moment of discovery, Abuela encourages Julián and takes him to his tribe: a gathering of likeminded people.
Jessica Love’s beautiful sentiment is echoed in her vibrant, festive art done by hand with ink, gouache, and watercolor on brown paper. Richly rendered, expressive characters stand out against muted backgrounds. This 40-page picture book gently shows how easy it can be to accept others. Potentially contentious moments are, instead, depicted with understanding.
Using words sparingly, Julián is a Mermaid captures the colorful expansiveness of our imaginations when given free rein.
About the author: Jessica Love is an illustrator and Broadway actress. She has a BA in studio art from the University of California, Santa Cruz, as well as a graduate degree from Juilliard. She lives in New York.
MOMMY’S KHIMAR Written by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow Illustrated by Ebony Glenn (Salaam Reads; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
ALMA Written and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal (Candlewick Press, $17.99, Ages 4-8)
are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
Two parent and child dyads share and celebrate cherished cultural connections in beautiful new picture books by debut authors that will touch and delight the heart.
Debut author Thompkins-Bigelow depicts a child’s wonderful, busy day in MOMMY’S KHIMAR.“A khimar is a flowing scarf that my mommy wears” says a young Muslim girl who loves to dress-up in her mother’s rainbow collection of headscarves. Fun and fancy are foremost in her mind as she incorporates the beautiful khimars in her imaginative play. The yellow khimar – another term for hijab – is her favorite and she dreams of wearing it like a queen, or a superhero, flying through the sky like a star.
Mama sees the girl at play, but smiles tenderly rather than scolds. The scarf carries her familiar, motherly fragrance of coconut oil, cocoa butter and cinnamon, making it even more special to her daughter. The girl is also loved and celebrated by her father, teachers and her grandmother, wrapped in tangible and intangible messages of love and welcome.
Glenn’s bright, sunny illustrations are sweet and appealing, using vibrant colors that compliment the warm, well-rounded story and keep the focus squarely on the girl’s fun. The energetic images cool to soft blue-purples as night falls and the beloved khimar returns to her mother’s closet. Even in her dreams the heroine recalls the tender embrace of her family and community, but her mother most of all. A delightful depiction of an ordinary day in the life of a cheerful and charming child. ★Starred reviews – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal
ALMA AND HOW SHE GOT HER NAMEis the book title, but the inquisitive heroine’s full name is Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela. Alma complains that her name is “too long” and “never fits.” In fact, Alma must tape an extra piece of paper to her page to accommodate all six! Soon, the how and why of the family stories behind each and every name is revealed in compelling, engaging descriptions.
When Alma’s father explains the rich history of the names she bears, Alma’s incredible imagination brings them to life. Aided by family photos and icons, her father’s story reveals Alma’s namesakes and the common bonds they share. Like her grandmother Sofia, Alma adores books. Like her grandfather Jose, Alma loves to draw and paint. Candela was Alma’s activist grandmother, and aunt Pura was deeply spiritual.
Alma wears delightful striped red pants, a perky red hairbow, and a red string around her left wrist. Her sweet, expressive face moves from solemn to astonished, serene to silly as she “meets” her ancestors and discovers the common bonds that they share. Martinez-Neal, recipient of the 2018 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award, uses a restrained color palette and imbues the well-designed textual components with meaningful symbols. Broad, double page spreads pace the story smoothly and linger for maximum impact on each name’s meaning. The final reveal for the name “Alma” is a warm, satisfying and ultimately empowering one for the little girl who has been enriched by the love and history of her family past and present. ALMA is a tender tale, a treasure for all readers who will wonder about their own name history. ★Starred reviews – Booklist, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal
•Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where obtained: I reviewed advanced reader’s copies from the publishers and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
Extraordinary Jane, a new picture book written and illustrated by Hannah E. Harrison, is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.
Kids will fall in love with Jane, a circus dog, and the most adorable and extraordinary character in Harrison’s new picture book, Extraordinary Jane (Dial, $16.99, Ages 3-5). Jane might be a mutt although she reminded me of a little fluffy, white Maltese my family once rescued. But that really doesn’t matter because what Jane definitely is is lovable, precious, friendly and loyal. And while these qualities make her so very special, Jane clearly doesn’t realize these things about herself.
The book opens with a spread of antique-style circus posters, none of which show Jane. From these first illustrations readers know they’re in for a treat with Harrison’s warm, inviting and detailed artwork. Parents will love the opportunity to scour each page for the fine details Harrison’s included so they can point them out to younger children. Older kids may find them on their own. Written with few words, the story is still easily understood and helped along by the circus characters’ many expressions and emotions which say so much.
“She wasn’t graceful like her mother [who rides atop a galloping horse], or mighty like her father.” We see the daddy dog lifting a humongous elephant while Jane struggles to pull a pail of water nearby. Jane has to cover her ears when her daring brothers are blasted out of circus cannons and, fearful of heights, Jane could never attempt to traverse the tightrope like her sisters.
“Jane was just Jane.” And just being Jane meant being loved by all the circus members despite an array of things she was unable to do (and humorously conveyed in Harrison’s illustrations). My favorite image is of Jane looking down from the trapeze as “She tried to find her special talent.” She does not look happy in the least!
Everyone knew what was good about her, especially the Ringmaster and ultimately, Jane. This ideal read-aloud book is great for story time, bedtime and any time a parent wants to reinforce the message to their child about how they should celebrate themselves. I’m looking forward to Harrison’s next book because if it’s half as good as Extraordinary Jane, it will still be super.
If you enjoy Harrison’s artwork, click here to read our review about another book she illustrated called Just Like You.
“Everybody looks better with a mustache…Especially monsters.”
“Huzzah!” cries Mo, when he receives a big, black, beautiful mustache in the mail. As soon as he dons his snazzy new lip accoutrement, wacky trouble ensues. Now all the adorable monsters want their own mustache! Mo’s Mustache (Tundra Books, $17.95, ages 3-7), written and illustrated by Ben Clanton, will have young readers eager to sprout facial hair, or at least wiggle a finger across their upper lips.
If you have ever heard a pouting child declare, “Don’t copy me!” you must read this funny, charming picture book. Clanton’s wonderfully expressive little monsters just can’t help but admire Mo’s new look, so each acquires their own unique mustache. While imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, Mo no longer feels special.
Clanton’s illustrations are “rendered in watercolor and ink using a mustache as a brush” according to the copyright page, and printed on a thick, softly splattered stock with an upscale recycled appearance. As a special treat, the book jacket unfolds into a two foot long illustrated poster titled “Mo’s Mustache Manual: The Essential Guide to Mustache Maintenance.”
Kids will giggle throughout Mo’s quest to maintain his sense of style and individuality while staying one fashion-forward step ahead of the other monsters. Funny expressions like “Murf” and “Booyah!” are captured in floating speech bubbles that encourage reader participation. Mo’s Mustache is sure to bring many laughs and requests to “read it again!”