A winner on many levels.

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 21, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2022


Charming and thought-provoking proof that we all contain multitudes.

Oscar winner McConaughey offers intriguing life observations.

The series of pithy, wry comments, each starting with the phrase “Just because,” makes clear that each of us is a mass of contradictions: “Just because we’re friends, / doesn’t mean you can’t burn me. / Just because I’m stubborn, / doesn’t mean that you can’t turn me.” Witty, digitally rendered vignettes portray youngsters diverse in terms of race and ability (occasionally with pets looking on) dealing with everything from friendship drama to a nerve-wracking footrace. “Just because I’m dirty, / doesn’t mean I can’t get clean” is paired with an image of a youngster taking a bath while another character (possibly an older sibling) sits nearby, smiling. “Just because you’re nice, / doesn’t mean you can’t get mean” depicts the older one berating the younger one for tracking mud into the house. The artwork effectively brings to life the succinct, rhyming text and will help readers make sense of it. Perhaps, after studying the illustrations and gaining further insight into the comments, kids will reread and reflect upon them further. The final page unites the characters from earlier pages with a reassuring message for readers: “Just because the sun has set, / doesn’t mean it will not rise. / Because every day is a gift, / each one a new surprise. BELIEVE IT.” As a follow-up, readers should be encouraged to make their own suggestions to complete the titular phrase. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

Charming and thought-provoking proof that we all contain multitudes. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023

ISBN: 9780593622032

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 8, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2023


Renata’s wren encounter proves magical, one most children could only wish to experience outside of this lovely story.

A home-renovation project is interrupted by a family of wrens, allowing a young girl an up-close glimpse of nature.

Renata and her father enjoy working on upgrading their bathroom, installing a clawfoot bathtub, and cutting a space for a new window. One warm night, after Papi leaves the window space open, two wrens begin making a nest in the bathroom. Rather than seeing it as an unfortunate delay of their project, Renata and Papi decide to let the avian carpenters continue their work. Renata witnesses the birth of four chicks as their rosy eggs split open “like coats that are suddenly too small.” Renata finds at a crucial moment that she can help the chicks learn to fly, even with the bittersweet knowledge that it will only hasten their exits from her life. Rosen uses lively language and well-chosen details to move the story of the baby birds forward. The text suggests the strong bond built by this Afro-Latinx father and daughter with their ongoing project without needing to point it out explicitly, a light touch in a picture book full of delicate, well-drawn moments and precise wording. Garoche’s drawings are impressively detailed, from the nest’s many small bits to the developing first feathers on the chicks and the wall smudges and exposed wiring of the renovation. (This book was reviewed digitally with 10-by-20-inch double-page spreads viewed at actual size.)

Renata’s wren encounter proves magical, one most children could only wish to experience outside of this lovely story. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: March 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-12320-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade/Random

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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