Jessica Love On Her Newest Release, Julián At The Wedding

Written by Katie Hintz-Zambrano
1:00 pm
10/08/20

Photographed by Maria Del Rio

Drumroll…it’s finally here! If you loved the vibrant, inclusive kids’ book Julián Is A Mermaid (who didn’t?!), the award-winning book now has a companion title: Julián At The Wedding. With a lively story and beautiful illustrations by Julián creator Jessica Love, this time around the adored character finds himself as a flower kid at a color-soaked wedding that his abuela brings him to. Naturally, some fabulous dress-up-fueled adventure ensues. So, why a wedding as a setting? We asked Love to explain.

“I think the pith of the inspiration for me is always a kind of mytho-poetic mood. And some of the most vivid and thrilling memories I have from childhood are of being a kid at an adult party,” says Love. “There is something really thrilling about the way the normal rules are suspended—suddenly the grown-ups are laughing and dancing and everyone is dressed up in exotic costumes and you’re allowed to stay up late and eat sugar, but mostly it’s the way the behavior of the adults changes that’s so compelling. There aren’t many occasions where children get to watch adults playing and being exuberant and joyful and alive in that way. I think it’s good for everybody.”

Additionally, Love explains: “I think I was also inspired to set the story at a wedding because marriage—while it has its problems as an institution—is, at its most basic level, a promise between two people to help each other, to trust one another, to compromise, to work together, to be kind to each other. I wish that we, as a species, could get better at extending that sense of mutuality out further. I think we must.”

The story itself circles around the celebration of love between an LGBTQ couple, both decked out in romantic white ensembles, including an afro covered in flowers and layered with a billowing veil. Meanwhile, Julián wears a sharp lavender suit with a playful peplum for his starring role in the wedding—walking a cute dog down the aisle.

The illustrations themselves are so bold and beautiful and practically jump off the page. We asked Love how these creations come to be—so perhaps you and your little one can be inspired to try at home!

“I’m pretty lo-fi. I like the way hand-made stuff looks—I feel like it has spiritual fingerprints,” she explains. “So, I work on cotton paper—Stonehenge ‘Kraft’ paper is what I’ve used for both Julián books. I sketch the image out in pencil, then I ink a few parts I want in black India ink, and erase the pencil so there are as few marks on the page as possible. Then I go in with watercolor and gouache washes.”

Of course, beyond the gorgeous illustrations, it’s Love’s stories that celebrate individualism and boys who love dress-up that have been celebrated widely. Parents around the country—and abroad—have applauded the author-illustrator for challenging gender norms in the best-selling Julián Is A Mermaid, and it’s a privilege she doesn’t take lightly.

“I can’t overstate the honor it has been to get to know so many people for whom this story and this character has meant something,” says Love. “As an artist you spend so much of your worry-time asking ‘does this matter AT ALL?’ and mostly you just have to decide that you may never know, but it matters to you, and that has to be enough of a reason to keep going. But since Mermaid came out I have heard from so many families and individuals who have told me explicitly that this story was necessary, or healing, or joy-making for them—that they felt seen.”

“I’ve met so many Juliáns, of all ages, all over the world, and to be let in a little into their experiences, their struggles, and their joy has been a profound thing for me. One highlight was my first school visit,” Love recalls. “A kindergarten teacher named Vera Ahiyya was the first person to reach out to me and ask if I’d come do an author visit, and it was such a good day. The school was in Brooklyn, and the kids were so great, so smart and funny, and full of questions. At the end of the year, Vera’s students gifted her a tattoo with a local tattoo artist, and the tattoo she got was Julián as a mermaid! So now he swims on her arm. I consider Vera one of Julián’s fairy godmothers, and she actually appears in the second to last page of Julián At The Wedding dancing with her husband.”

To see this fun surprise and so many more delights, be sure to scoop up Julián At The Wedding at Bookshop, Amazon, or your favorite local bookstore.

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