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on June 19, 2004
Part of a "Girls of Many Lands" series, this volume tells of a girl from the Caucasus who is sold into a sultan's harem in Istanbul. It is set during the Ottoman Empire's brief Tulip Period-a golden age-in the early 1700s.
Croutier possesses excellent credentials for interpreting Turkey's cultural history for young readers. Raised in Turkey, she has written two novels (adult level) set in that country, as well as the non-fictional "Harem: The World Behind the Veil."
In "Leyla," the protagonist spends her early years in the Caucasus, learning to paint from her artist-father and to garden from her mother. When war broke out between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, Leyla's father was mustered into the army and is now assumed missing. Leyla believes she will keep her mother and three siblings from starving by selling herself to men claiming they'll find her a wealthy husband-in far-off Istanbul.
Leyla soon learns she has been sold into slavery; she is eventually purchased to become part of the sultan's harem. At the sumptuous Topkapi Palace, she is assigned to work in the flower gardens.
The ending is marred by an incredulous array of serendipitous happenings. A handsome, young prince befriends Leyla and arranges for her to teach art. During the Tulip Festival, she wins the sultan's favor as well as a hefty prize for her green thumb. Then she learns her father is alive and working in the palace! And much more!
Despite this, the story is engaging and does provide a good picture of life in a harem, where women are physically protected, even pampered, yet deprived of basic freedoms and subject to the jealousies and intrigues of a highly politicized setting.
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on November 8, 2003
I'm kind of old to be reading American Girl books, and I always hated the boring-and-blah books about the American Girls of Yesterday, but I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I was babysitting for an 11-year-old and her copy was on the coffee table, so I started to read it and couldn't put it down. It isn't slow to get started and it has a very interesting storyline. The fact that it was written by a woman who grew up in Turkey makes the narration that much more authentic and engaging. Even though the age recommendation is 9-12, I didn't find the writing style patronizing at all. I'm interested now to see what the other books in the "Girls of Many Lands" series are like.
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on March 10, 2008
The year is 1720. Twelve-year-old Leyla has always been privy to a happy lifestyle in Istanbul. The daughter of a magnificent painter, Leyla's existence has been one full of art, culture, gardening, and love. She is passionate about her family, and thrives on tending her garden where she grows the most amazing flowers. But when her father heads off to war to paint the battle scenes and never returns, Leyla's life changes drastically.

Leyla could have never imagined that when she kissed her father goodbye on that fateful day, that she would never see him again. But as the months pass, there is no sign of her father, and Leyla can't help but feel dreadful. But feeling sorry for herself is out of the question; especially with the shambles that her family is in. Since her father's departure, there is little to no food, and the cold is so strong that Leyla and her family often find themselves sleeping side-by-side in a little ball, just to stay warm. He only consolation for her family's troubles is the work she does in her garden. There she has begun to grow flowers of all different shapes, sizes, and colors. But her most prized flower is the tulip. Legend has it that no one has ever been able to grow a black tulip. Leyla is determined to do just that. But she is forced to put her dreams on the backburner when her family's troubles begin to worsen. Soon she finds herself at Topkapi Palace, a newcomer to the royal harem. When her talent for gardening surfaces, however, Leyla is placed under the guidance of the Mistress of the Flowers. It is here where she secretly plants the special tulips she has brought with her from her home. Now her only worry is what will happen to her if the tulip bulbs are discovered.

I have loved each and every book in the GIRLS OF MANY LANDS series, and Alev Lytle Croutier's LEYLA: THE BLACK TULIP is no exception. I read historical fiction all the time, but Croutier's addition to the series gave me the opportunity to embark on a tour of Istanbul - something I have yet to do in my reading travels. Leyla is such a refreshing, remarkable character. Her loyalty to her family is admirable, as is the maturity she displays in having to do what's right to assist those she loves in surviving. I love the time that she spends in the gardens, and how she speaks of the flowers; but it is the way that she captures her thoughts, dreams, and hopes in her painting that is quite lovely. While she is not a prevalent character, I found the inclusion of the Mistress of the Flowers to be wonderful. She seems like such a bright, observant, kind individual, that I couldn't help feeling interested in her whenever she popped up. An engrossing and powerful read with strong characters who won't soon be forgotten. Bravo Ms. Croutier!

Erika Sorocco
Freelance Reviewer
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on May 23, 2004
Leyla: the Black Tulip is about a young girl named Laleena, who is living in Georgia near the Caucasus Mountains with her mother and three siblings. Her father was a painter and went to war and never came back. One day, two men come and suggest to Laleena's mother that her daughter could go to Istanbul for the chance of marriage. Laleena's family is poor, and her mother knows that the money could help their family a lot, but instead she says no. Laleena hears the whole discussion, and knows that it would be best to go, so in the middle of the night, she sneaks out and gets on the boat to Istanbul. It is a long ride from Georgia to Istanbul, but Laleena meets a friend named Lena. Laleena serves as a mother figure to Lena and cares for her greatly. It turns out that all of the girls on the ship are not going to Istanbul to find a husband, but to be sold as slaves! Laleena is bought by a man, and taken to the Topkapi Palace, where she is forced to change identities and become "Leyla". At the palace, she is told to work in the gardens (something she enjoys very much), and spends time specializing in the tulips. When it is time for the Tulip Festival, the sultan announced that if anyone could grow a black tulip, they would receive a large amount of gold as an award. Leyla tries as hard as she can to nurture her tulip bulbs and win the prize. Will Leyla produce the black tulip? Will she ever see her father or Lena again? You can find out if you read Leyla: the Black Tulip.
This book is a great story about a girl learning to be independent. It is an intriguing story that you can learn a lot from. It made me think about how tough it would be to live in a palace back then. Any girl that reads this book will love it.
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on September 26, 2004
Leyla the Black Tulip

By Alev Lytle Croutier

Historical Fiction

Character Trait

"How could they have done this to me?" Wondered twelve year old Laleena. "Tricked me like this, turning me into a slave?" This book is about twelve year old Laleena and how her life got turned topsy turvy. When her father disappered Laleena sold herself and became a slave. But as time passes she gets to do the two things she loves to do most, planting tulips, and painting art. But she still misses her entire family. Will Laleena ever find her father? Will she ever see her family again? Read the book and see!

Laleena's personality changes throughout the book. At the beginning of the book Laleena is helpful around the house by doing chores, planting tulips and seeing what colors they will turn. She doesn't feel her inner freedom even thought she is surely free. She is a caring and kind person because in the book she thinks about her family first by selling herself so her poor family can have money for a long, long time. In the end of the book she still is caring and kind by following the rules even though she doesn't like the rules. She is also elegant because she learns to be more ladylike which was considered elegant in 1720.

Even thought the book is historical fiction, I felt like this was really happening and I felt like I was Laleena and my life got all topsey turvey and I was going through all of that trouble. I recommend this book for girls ages 9-15 who want to learn something about the past but don't like reading non-fiction. Reading this book gave me knowledge but in a fun way.
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on July 27, 2015
I bought this as part of a classroom library I helped my daughter build for her 4th grade class she will be teaching in Honduras. She read all the "Girls of Many Lands" books when she was a young girl and wanted her students to have the opportunity to read them also.
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on August 6, 2005
Before reading Leyla: The Black Tulip, my favorite of the Girls of Many Lands was Cécile. However, I enjoyed Leyla's story so much that Leyla is my new favorite.

Laleena is a twelve-year-old girl living in the country of Georgia with her mother and brothers. To give her family the money they have needed desperately since her father went missing in war, Laleena sells herself into an arranged marriage, only to find that she has been tricked into selling herself into slavery. She finds herself being taken to the harem of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey, where she is given the Turkish name Leyla. In the Topkapi Palace, Leyla finally discovers her destiny.

I enjoyed the vibrant descriptions of harem life, and loved getting to know the characters - Princess Fatma, Leyla's friends Belkis and Lena, and Leyla's family. I recommend this to girls who are interested in historical fiction, or have enjoyed books from the American Girl or Girls of Many Lands collections.
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on March 23, 2006
I adored this book. It was fairly simple to read, but I enjoyed it thoroughly. Apart from being a great story, I learned about a world I knew nothing about. It's so interesting and I would recommend it to anyone.
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on April 8, 2015
This is a wonderful, lovely book of the series Girls of Many Lands, and this is my second favorite, next to Kathleen: The Celtic Knot. You can really get wrapped up in the story and relate to the characters.
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on September 6, 2003
For over a year I have anxiously awaited the release of this installment in the Girls of Many Lands series. About 4 weeks ago I finally got it and devoured it! It is one of my personal favorites in the 8-book series and I highly recommend.
The story opens upon 12-year-old Laleena, the daughter of a Georgian artist. Ever since a war broke out involving the neighboring Ottoman Empire, Laleena's father has been missing. Without his financial support, Laleena, her mother, and her brother, Cengiz, have been searching for opportunities to raise money. While doing so one day, Laleena and her brother happen upon a meadow scattered with unfamiliar flowers--tulips. Gathering as many bulbs as possible through trips to the meadows, Cengiz and Laleena become experts in growing these flowers that became a phenomenon around the time. Holland even almost went broke when they bought tulips from Georgia and the Ottoman Empire! Well, Laleena and her brother raise money by selling some bulbs and flowers, but that isn't enough. At a town festival one day, Laleena catches the eye of a group of mysterious men, who also catch her eye. Turning out to be men who are supposedly looking for women to be paid to marry men in the great Turkish city of Istanbul, the Ottoman capital, Laleena sells herself to these men to raise money. However, she soon finds out the terrible mistake she's made. Spending weeks in a ship's hold she finds out the truth, she is to be sold as a slave. She befriends a young girl, named Lena, whom she becomes a guardian over. After weeks in the suffocating hold, the ship arrives in Istanbul, where Laleena has the luck to be sold as a slave to the royal harem at Topkapi Palace. It is here that we dive into the life of the harem. Every movement, every piece of art, and every gesture has its own meaning. Laleena is re-named Leyla and is assigned to work in the gardens of the harem. She befriends Belkis, a fellow Georgian, who trains her in the rules and regulations of harem life. Leyla's life in the harem is scattered with fear and sadness. From the shocking death of the taster, Ceylan, to Leyla's punishments after lying to the Mistress of the Household when she was painting, to Leyla sneaking into a royal garden party, which could have ended in her death. However, this book is also blessed with many happy moments, including the happy ending, which is too good to mention here. The only thing I somewhat disagreed with about this book is that Leyla was able to make a black tulip. This is virtually impossible. People have been trying to do it for centuries and scientists today have proven that a black tulip cannot be made. I still found the 'black tulip scene' in the book a happy part in the heartwarming ending, but I wish it were a little bit more realistic. There was also another problem. It is known, and I believe even mentioned in the book, that slavery of Muslims is forbidden, and not one harem girl was allowed to be Muslim. But there are references that Leyla is Muslim, as is Belkis, and they both end up in the harem. I don't get it. I was also a little sad to find out that Leyla would have gone to the Palace of Tears by the time she was in her 20's, as the padishah she was a harem girl under died in the 1730's. However, I still highly recommend this book and I will treasure it in my vast book collection.
Also, I found it interesting that Alev Lytle Croutier's grandmother lived in the last Ottoman harem! I hope to read Ms. Croutier's other harem books someday.
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