header image with the book covers Introducing Teddy (with a teddy bear standing in front of a mirror) and Julian is a Mermaid (with a brown skinned child standing in a flowing outfit)

Nicole Field reviews: ‘Introducing Teddy’ & ‘Julián is a Mermaid’

Introducing Teddy (2016)
Jessica Walton and Dougal MacPherson

&

Julián is a Mermaid (2018)
Jessica Love

I get a lot of people asking me for recommendations for LGBTI+ literature for younger children. After a bit of searching, I discovered Introducing Teddy and Julián is a Mermaid.

Jessica Walton is a disability advocate from Melbourne and Introducing Teddy is her first picture book. In this book, the images by Dougal MacPherson on each page are charming, but it was Walton’s writing that captured me.

header image with the book cover of Introducing Teddy with a teddy bear standing in front of a mirrorIntroducing Teddy follows a teddy who is miserable until her companion—the boy in the story—asks her what’s wrong. We then explore the fear felt by the teddy, that the boy will no longer be friends with her if the boy knows his teddy is really a girl teddy.

This book explores pronouns, gender and naming people. And, just as importantly, it depicts a kind way for children to understand one another whenever new identities arise.

The book ends with Tilly and the boy doing the same things as they had at the start. Now, we see a happier Tilly being acknowledged as her true self by her friend. This is an empowering thing for young trans children to see.

Where the focus of Introducing Teddy showed the friendship between peers, Julián is a Mermaid is the story of a child coming to show his grandmother that he wants to be a mermaid.

Julián is out with his grandma when a bunch of girls dressed up as mermaids join them on the train. It sets his mind to thinking, imagining what he would look like as a mermaid.

While his grandma is in the bath, Julián goes about the house and makes himself a mermaid costume out of fern fronds and a window curtain.

the book cover of Julian is a Mermaid with a brown skinned child standing in a flowing outfitComing back out of the bath, his grandma isn’t angry at the destruction Julián has caused in making his mermaid costume; she isn’t sad. She instead gives him a string of pearls, the same as the one that the fish offered to Julian in his imagination.

When I went back through the book, I noticed that the blue patterned dress his grandma comes out in is the same pattern as that of the fish. The book is full of beautiful details such as this, and children will love going back to notice new things every time. Author/Illustrator Jessica Love has done an outstanding job.

Something I loved in Introducing Teddy was the friend Ada who built robots in her spare time and also seemed to have some genderqueer-ness hinted at, although this was not explicit. For Julián is a Mermaid, the theme of enjoying something regardless of one’s assigned gender is front and centre. And while the blurb does gender Julián as a boy, nothing in the actual text genders him.

These picture books are both must-haves for all children’s collections.

header image with the book covers Introducing Teddy (with a teddy bear standing in front of a mirror) and Julian is a Mermaid (with a brown skinned child standing in a flowing outfit)

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Nicole Field (he/she/they) writes across the spectrum of sexuality and gender identity. They live in Melbourne with one of their partners, two cats, a whole lot of books and a bottomless cup of tea. They can be found on WordPress: nicolefieldwrites.wordpress.com and Twitter: @faerywhimsy.

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