Julián is back, and this time, he’s a member of the wedding.
The character who won hearts and accolades—including the ALA’s Stonewall Award—in Jessica Love’s debut work, Julián Is a Mermaid, will return in October 2020 in Julián at the Wedding. Here we present an exclusive preview of the art, which finds Julián looking dapper (and not a little like rock musician Prince) in formal attire, accompanied by a new friend, the flower girl.
“From the moment we saw Julián and Abuela, we wanted to spend a lot of time learning from them about how to be in the world,” said Katie Cunningham, senior editor at Candlewick. “In the new book, Julián makes a friend and that friendship makes each of them braver, wilder, more compassionate, and more tender. It’s a model for how to be a good friend and how to love well.”
The story is loosely based on Love’s personal experience: at age six, she came to New York for the first time with her family to be a flower girl in her uncle’s wedding. “When you’re a little kid, it’s a very exciting job to have,” she said. She made it through the ceremony in her “very fancy and not very comfortable” bridal party dress, but afterwards fell into the Hudson River while playing on some rocks with the ring bearer.
“The ring bearer helped me climb out of the water,” she said. “And then my parents took me to a souvenir stand and bought me an I HEART NY t-shirt that I wore for the duration of the reception.”
A Julián sequel wasn’t originally in the cards for Love. “I really didn’t want to do something that felt like I was doing it just because I could,” she said. “I wanted it to feel grounded in the reality of the world that I built and true to the characters.” But the enthusiasm of parents and children she encountered at readings convinced her that “people actually wanted to see the character grow and have adventures.”
The new book continues the look and feel that Love established in the first story; the book is entirely hand-drawn in gouache and watercolor on brown paper—and the setting is once again Brooklyn.
But the process evolved in two important respects. Instead of bringing to Candlewick what was essentially a fully formed story, she began kicking around drafts with Cunningham and executive creative director Ann Stott in this past spring. She then spent the summer drafting sketches, “figuring out the beats of the story,” said Love, who trained as an actor at Juilliard. She compares the experience to working with a director who is “helping you shape what you’re trying to say.”
“Jess, Ann, and I have spent a lot of time together talking and imagining and wondering and that familiarity is absolutely helpful,” Cunningham said. “We are good about asking one another for what we need, which is useful in any relationship.”
As with the previous book, Love created the pictures first, then text—although for the second book, she promises that the words will come a little earlier than they did for Julián Is a Mermaid.
“When we made the first book,” Cunningham recalled, “I thought we were making a wordless book and Jess thought we were just waiting to work on the text. Right before the book went to the printer she asked, ‘When are we going to work on the words?’ We got on the phone and hammered out the text in a few days. This time, we were on the same page.”
Up next for Love: illustrating Mượn Thị Văn’s I Love You Because I Love You for HarperCollins/Tegen. She is also on board to write and illustrate another book for Candlewick, whose subject is to be determined.
“I have a year of work blocked out,” Love said, “which, as a recovering actor, is a miraculous thing to know.”