Layla’s Happiness

h1 October 3rd, 2019 by jules



 

Here’s a post to showcase some spreads from Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie’s Layla’s Happiness, illustrated by Ashleigh Corrin and coming to shelves (Enchanted Lion) later this month. It’s the story of a girl named Layla — and in telling readers about her joys, she prompts them to think about how they define happiness in their own lives.

One thing that makes this book sing is its specificity. Readers learn a great deal about Layla’s likes, desires, and quirks. We know right away that she not only knows what her name means (“night beauty”) but that she also takes pride in it. In fact, we know she loves the dark skies of night, because they are the “color of dark, purple plums.” We know she wants to learn to master the trumpet — but without having to practice. We know she loves eating spaghetti without a fork; she likes her friend Juan and hearing his parents “laugh after they dance salsa under the magnolia tree”; she loves that her father grew up in South Carolina; she loves it when her mother reads her poetry; she loves to go to the farmer’s market; she loves the “outer space flowers” in her kaleidoscope; and more. Her detailed accounts of what inspires her and how she defines happiness make her leap from the page. The author and illustrator make her singular; no types here. She is a girl we quickly grow to like.

And she is a brown-skinned girl, whose story here is not one defined by strife or struggle, as we so often see in books with characters of color. In 2014, Christopher Myers wrote at the New York Times about the “apartheid of [children’s] literature — in which characters of color are limited to the townships of occasional historical books that concern themselves with the legacies of civil rights and slavery but are never given a pass card to traverse the lands of adventure, curiosity, imagination or personal growth.” We certainly need the former — they are vital, because we must know history (and learn to not repeat it) — but we also need the latter, as he so eloquently lays out in this piece. We have that here in Layla’s story.

The text here is even presented as if a young girl drew it; often, there are words in which the letters are colored in (yellow, for instance, for “my dad” and “dance”). The letters are loud and proud, warm, and almost bubbly — much like Layla. Most of the spreads are full-bleed, as if the book itself can’t contain Layla’s energy — and the abundant love she has for her family, her friends, for being in nature, and for delighting in life. Corrin’s illustrations, marked by energetic lines, are brightly colored (lots of vivid yellows and reds, warm greens, and rich purples) and highly textured; you want to reach out and touch Layla’s world.

This book is the debut of both the author and the illustrator. I can’t wait to see what they do next. Here are some spreads so that the art can do the talking. …

 


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“I think happiness is showing my mom the outer space flowers in my kaleidoscope.”
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LAYLA’S HAPPINESS. Text copyright © 2019 by Mariahadessa Serene Tallie. Illustrations copyright © 2019 by Ashleigh Corrin Webb. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Enchanted Lion Books, New York.





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