Layla, the Last Black Unicorn

HarperCollins. May 2022. 32p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780063113879.
PreS-Gr 2–Layla, a spirited black unicorn from the Overlook Woods, is nervous about starting school. Trevin, a black troll and Layla’s cheerful caregiver since she was a foal, assures Layla that she’s ready. On her first day at Unicornia, Layla is mocked by the perfectly groomed, brightly colored unicorns for her “woodsy” ways. Defeated, Layla refuses to return to school, but Trevin rallies her spirits and inspires her resilience. When a class trip to her familiar woods turns disastrous, can Layla take the reins and swiftly employ her woodland knowledge to lead her class back to safety? Haddish’s picture book is loosely adapted from her autobiographical essay collection, The Last Black Unicorn. It is unique in its depiction of a black unicorn, diverting from the conventional white or pastel colored unicorns, and offers a rare portrayal of dark-skinned trolls, fairies, and goblins. Gibson’s digital cartoon illustrations are warm, vibrant, and sure to attract young readers who enjoy the unicorn stories in Rhiannon Fielding’s “Ten Minutes to Bed” series. Unfortunately, Haddish’s unicorn tale suffers from a rushed and underdeveloped resolution. The text briefly describes Melvin Minotaur as Layla’s friend at the beginning of the story, but he does not appear in plot or illustration until his contribution to the story’s conclusion. The outcome just isn’t convincing.
VERDICT Despite its flaws, for representation alone, this book needs to be in every collection. It offers a mild lesson of resilience but a rarely seen cast of diverse fantasy woodland characters.

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