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Sea change: Mermaid Parade stars in picture book about mermaid boy

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She’s making a splash!

A Ditmas Park author and illustrator has created a children’s book inspired by Coney Island’s annual Mermaid Parade, starring a young boy eager to become a dazzling sea maiden. Jessica Love, who will discuss “Julian is a Mermaid” at two different Brooklyn locations on June 30, hopes that her debut picture book will appeal to all young readers, and that it will help kids to understand those who express their gender identity differently.

“I wanted it to feel like an invitation to kids who don’t necessarily identify that way to go on this journey and to feel empathy for this character,” said Love.

The book’s main character, Julian, becomes fascinated with mermaids after spotting three women on the subway dressed in sparkling, fishy finery. He rushes home with his grandmother, who encourages his dressing up and gender exploration. Love chose to make the sea creatures a focal point of the story after discovering that many gender non-conforming kids are particularly fascinated with mermaids and their apparent freedom from earthly — and anatomical — worries.

“I was doing a lot of reading of family blogs of families of kids who are trans or queer and I was noticing this theme in a lot of these testimonials of parents that there was an obsession of mermaids among their children,” Love said. “Some of the theories of why are because mermaids don’t have anything below the waist to worry about, and it’s also a magical creature that lives between two different worlds.”

The book ends at the Mermaid Parade, where Julian finds acceptance among the many men and women dressed as sea creatures. Love said that she has been to the Parade many times, and drew on that history for her illustrations.

“Some of the costume ideas were from the parade, and some were ideas I wish I could wear to the parade — but I can’t sew!” she said.

Love embraces Brooklyn’s diversity with her writing and her art, making Julian Spanish-speaking and painting her gouache images on brown paper instead of white. She hopes the results will make young readers of all backgrounds feel included and feel that they can be their true selves.

“I didn’t want white to be the neutral color for this story, I wanted it to be brown, because that’s the color that most of the people in this book are,” she said. “I wanted it to be a story about love and beauty. I wanted this story to be a story of what could be under the very best of circumstan­ces.”

Jessica Love speaks at Books Are Magic [225 Smith St. at Butler Street in Cobble Hill, (718) 246–2665, www.booksaremagic.net]. June 30 at 1 pm. Free. And at Coney Island Museum (1208 Surf Ave. at W. 12th Street, second floor, in Coney Island, www.coneyisland.com). June 30 at 5 pm. $5.

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.
Updated 5:41 pm, July 9, 2018
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