LAYLA, THE LAST BLACK UNICORN

In Haddish’s picture-book debut, co-written by Nolen, a unicorn has a rough start trying to fit in at school.

Layla is a curious, free-spirited black unicorn with a coily mane and tail who loves spending summertime exploring Overlook Woods. When it is time for Layla to start going to school, though, she worries that she isn’t ready. Her guardian, Trevin Troll, assures her, “She ready.” At Unicornia, Layla’s attempt to join the other unicorns’ game is unsuccessful, and they call her “woodsy.” Layla tries dressing up with hair clips and sparkles, but this only makes things worse. Finally, when the class takes a field trip into the woods and the teacher has a mishap, Layla’s know-how and friendships with other forest dwellers get her frightened classmates back to school safely. Her friend Melvin Minoatur assures them that there’s no need to be afraid of the dark; when he met Layla, he learned “when something’s black, it’s really just where all the colors meet.” Readers will feel for Layla. While her problem fitting in at school is far from original, the details of her world make this a fresh take, a fun way to explore aspects of identity and culture (Layla feels like a stand-in for the Black actress/comedian, who often calls herself “the Last Black Unicorn”) or just to enjoy at surface level. The colorful, cartoon-style illustrations show refreshing diversity in the world of fantastical beings, and the striking black unicorn will do wonders for cultural perceptions of beauty. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

A winner on many levels. (Picture book. 3-8)

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-311387-9

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2022

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A sweet, soft conversation starter and a charming gift.

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BECAUSE I HAD A TEACHER

A paean to teachers and their surrogates everywhere.

This gentle ode to a teacher’s skill at inspiring, encouraging, and being a role model is spoken, presumably, from a child’s viewpoint. However, the voice could equally be that of an adult, because who can’t look back upon teachers or other early mentors who gave of themselves and offered their pupils so much? Indeed, some of the self-aware, self-assured expressions herein seem perhaps more realistic as uttered from one who’s already grown. Alternatively, readers won’t fail to note that this small book, illustrated with gentle soy-ink drawings and featuring an adult-child bear duo engaged in various sedentary and lively pursuits, could just as easily be about human parent- (or grandparent-) child pairs: some of the softly colored illustrations depict scenarios that are more likely to occur within a home and/or other family-oriented setting. Makes sense: aren’t parents and other close family members children’s first teachers? This duality suggests that the book might be best shared one-on-one between a nostalgic adult and a child who’s developed some self-confidence, having learned a thing or two from a parent, grandparent, older relative, or classroom instructor.

A sweet, soft conversation starter and a charming gift. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: March 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-943200-08-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Compendium

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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A pro-girl book with illustrations that far outshine the text. (Picture book. 3-7)

I AM ENOUGH

A feel-good book about self-acceptance.

Empire star Byers and Bobo offer a beautifully illustrated, rhyming picture book detailing what one brown-skinned little girl with an impressive Afro appreciates about herself. Relying on similes, the text establishes a pattern with the opening sentence, “Like the sun, I’m here to shine,” and follows it through most of the book. Some of them work well, while others fall flat: “Like the rain, I’m here to pour / and drip and fall until I’m full.” In some vignettes she’s by herself; and in others, pictured along with children of other races. While the book’s pro-diversity message comes through, the didactic and even prideful expressions of self-acceptance make the book exasperatingly preachy—a common pitfall for books by celebrity authors. In contrast, Bobo’s illustrations are visually stunning. After painting the children and the objects with which they interact, such as flowers, books, and a red wagon, in acrylic on board for a traditional look, she scanned the images into Adobe Photoshop and added the backgrounds digitally in chalk. This lends a whimsical feel to such details as a rainbow, a window, wind, and rain—all reminiscent of Harold and the Purple Crayon. Bobo creates an inclusive world of girls in which wearing glasses, using a wheelchair, wearing a head scarf, and having a big Afro are unconditionally accepted rather than markers for othering.

A pro-girl book with illustrations that far outshine the text. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-266712-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 3, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

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