Sulwe (Lupita Nyong’o)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Sulwe, written by Lupita Nyong’o and illustrated by Vashti Harrison, a lovely fable that tackles the difficult issue of colorism.

All the members of Sulwe’s family are a different shade of brown; her Mama is the color of dawn, her Baba the color of dusk, and her popular, much-praised sister Mich is the color of the noontime sky. Sulwe’s skin is much darker, even darker than most of the other kids at school, and her classmates often saddle her with hurtful and offensive names. SULWE does everything she can think of to lighten her skin: an eraser, eating only light-colored foods, covering herself with her Mama’s makeup – nothing works. After tearfully confessing her troubles, Sulwe’s mama reminds her that her name means “star”, and that she is beautiful just as she is. That night, Sulwe is visited by a shooting star, who tells her the story of Night and Day: two sisters who loved each other and were equally magnificent, but the world treated Night as less-than. Hurt, the Night left the world, and the world found that in endless day, there was no soothing cool, no peaceful rest, and no stars to be seen. Sulwe realizes that there is beauty to be found in darkness, just as there is in light – and that she is perfect in the skin she’s in.

I will not, for a moment, pretend to understand the complexities of colorism, especially from the perspective of a young child. What I do know is that skin color is an issue that affects the self-esteem and self-worth of little ones, both within their own ethnic/race communities and in the world at large. So to have this gentle, comforting, and empowering story for little ones who struggle with this issue, especially since it is one not often tackled in kidlit, is worth its weight in gold. The text is rich with detail and realism, and is clearly one from Nyong’o’s heart and experience, and this deeply personal perspective gives the story weight. Harrison’s illustrations are magical and majestic, particularly during the fable portion, and sing with emotional depth. The length is best for patient bookworms, but the spellbinding art and story are well worth it. Beautiful, and Baby Bookworm approved.

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)