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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New parents of daughters will eat these up and perhaps pass on the lessons learned.

WHY A DAUGHTER NEEDS A MOM

All the reasons why a daughter needs a mother.

Each spread features an adorable cartoon animal parent-child pair on the recto opposite a rhyming verse: “I’ll always support you in giving your all / in every endeavor, the big and the small, / and be there to catch you in case you should fall. / I hope you believe this is true.” A virtually identical book, Why a Daughter Needs a Dad, publishes simultaneously. Both address standing up for yourself and your values, laughing to ease troubles, being thankful, valuing friendship, persevering and dreaming big, being truthful, thinking through decisions, and being open to differences, among other topics. Though the sentiments/life lessons here and in the companion title are heartfelt and important, there are much better ways to deliver them. These books are likely to go right over children’s heads and developmental levels (especially with the rather advanced vocabulary); their parents are the more likely audience, and for them, the books provide some coaching in what kids need to hear. The two books are largely interchangeable, especially since there are so few references to mom or dad, but one spread in each book reverts to stereotype: Dad balances the two-wheeler, and mom helps with clothing and hair styles. Since the books are separate, it aids in customization for many families.

New parents of daughters will eat these up and perhaps pass on the lessons learned. (Picture book. 4-8, adult)

Pub Date: May 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4926-6781-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

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