‘Leyla, the Black Tulip’ by Alev Croutier sweeps you away to another world

Are you looking for a Middle Grade book that will magically transport your child and you to a different time and place?

I just finished reading Leyla, The Black Tulip to my daughters ages 6 and 9. Wow. We read this book in just one day. You know how sometimes you are reading to your kids and you’re so bored with the story, you want to scratch your eyes out? (If you think that’s an exaggeration, you’ve never been a victim of the endless Rainbow Magic series.) Leyla had us all hooked, and I’m 43, from page one until the end. When we took a reading break, I found my 9 yr old sequestered behind a chair, secretly reading ahead.

The narrative takes place in the 1700s. It is the story of a twelve year old Turkish girl who, after her father doesn’t return from war, sells herself into marriage so that her family won’t starve. On a ship to Istanbul, from the horrible conditions and whispers of other girls, Leyla realizes that she has, in fact, sold herself into slavery.

By using her wits and her talents, Leyla is able to avoid the worse fate and ends up tending the gardens of the Padishah’s harem at his palace in Istanbul. When Leyla passes the “gates of felicity” into the harem, we enter a different world.

Reading this book, my daughters and I leaned all about Turkey, Istanbul, the clothing, the food, the architecture, religion and traditions. We learned Turkish words and about the history of the Ottoman empire, all in a way that was integrated with the story and completely engrossing for all of us.

Not only all that, but Leyla is the story of a brave girl who saves her family and discovers her destiny. It is about the meaning of love, freedom, and art.

Leyla is my first venture into The American Girl series. This one is one of eight books of the Girls of Many Lands. The only reason I knew of this book is because I was lucky enough to meet the writer, Alev Croutier, at a party. When I told her that I was writing a MG book, she told me about Leyla. I since learned that Croutier is the only female novelist from Turkey to be published extensively worldwide. Her books have been translated into 21 languages. She is best known for her international best-seller: Harem, the World Behind the Veil. Here she is with my daughter, Alice.

Like many American Girl books, Leyla comes with a doll. Leyla is fascinating to look at. Her expression is so thoughtful, you can see how smart she is.

The details of the doll are amazing, replicating the description in the narrative exactly, from the pearls woven into her braids, to her earrings and slippers.

It’s hard to believe that the other books in the series are as good as this one, but I will be finding out for sure.

Reel Girl rates Leyla, the Black Tulip ***HHH***

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