Leyla, an anthropomorphized hamadryas baboon, lives in a giant, loving, and boisterous family. Sometimes she just wants to find a bit of quiet!
When her noisy relations become too much to bear, Leyla runs away to find her own space. In doing so, she makes the acquaintance of a very still and quiet lizard, who teaches Leyla the art of doing nothing. Together, they sit, feeling the sun, listening to the wind, and letting their minds be free of thought. When Leyla returns to her family, she is better able to appreciate their vociferous affection. At the surface level, this is a lovely story of cross-species friendship, of finding peace by connecting mindfully to the present moment, and of distance making the heart grow fonder. How unfortunate, then, that the author chose to deliver this story through the use of anthropomorphic baboons when historically in the United States, images of this type have been used to denigrate African-American families, and stereotypes that still cause harm, such as black families being “too” large or “too” loud, show up in the text. Regardless of the author’s intention, the pain this title could cause black families must be noted. To her credit, Bernstein’s imagery is playful, sweet, and well-researched, and her inspiration for the use of the baboons after seeing them in the Prospect Park Zoo is explained in a brief author’s note.
A wonderful concept mired in an execution that comes with far too much baggage for comfort. (Picture book. 4-7)