Yesterday I dressed Baby Bookworm in his rainbow cardigan and we headed out to watch the York Pride parade.
It was a joyous celebration of togetherness, with people of all ages and orientations walking as a community and standing shoulder-to-shoulder against hatred and division.
As Baby Bookworm waved his rainbow flag, gave high fives to police officers and clapped to the music, I was glad that we are living in a world where people are increasingly allowed to be who they are and love who they love.
Most of all, a world where empathy is the order of the day – even if some factions are trying to hold this progress back.
While our society might be moving forward, children’s books often do not reflect this diversity in their lead characters. There are too few females, too many gender stereotypes, few people with disabilities and a lack of racial diversity.
So when Julian is a Mermaid arrived in the post, I was shocked – in a good way.
This book (by Brooklyn-based actress and author-illustrator Jessica Love) tells the story of a little boy who loves mermaids and when he spots some fabulous ‘real life’ mermaids on the subway with his Nana, he is inspired to go home and dress up like his idols.
When his Nana finds him, with flowers in his hair and a curtain around his waist, Julian is initially fearful of her reaction.
But the wise and loving older lady hands him a string of beads and the two of them head out to proudly parade with the other amazing mermaids.
What I love about the way the book is written is the simple acceptance of Julian’s adoration of the mermaids and the way he is allowed to be himself, no questions asked. There’s no hand-wringing or heavy emotional dialogue.
Children love to dress up and allowing them to express themselves and explore their personality in this way – without fear of judgement – is so very important.
Just yesterday morning, Baby Bookworm was walking around in my shoes, trying on bags and pretending to put on make-up as I did mine.
He was smiling and laughing and I felt happy that he was enjoying himself.
Aside from the positive message Julian is a Mermaid carries about acceptance, the artwork is quite exquisite and distinctive – delicate pencil and watercolours on brown paper.
The story is set in a black community too, with women (and men) of all shapes and sizes. His sassy, curvy grandmother is, as Ru Paul would no doubt say, totally fierce.
In fact, just this week the world famous drag queen has been singing the book’s praises online, calling it beautiful and magnificent.
I’d second that.
Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love. £11.99 (hardback), Walker
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