‘Sulwe’ by Lupita Nyong’o and Vashti Harrison

Title: Sulwe
Author: Lupita Nyong’o
Illustrator: Vashti Harrison
Published: 2019
Genre: Children’s Fiction

Synopsis:

Sulwe has the color of midnight.
She is darker than everyone in her family.
She is darker than anyone in her school.
Sulwe just wants to be beautiful and bright, like her mother and sister. Then a magical journey in the night sky opens her eyes and changes everything.
In this stunning debut picture book, Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o creates a whimsical and heartwarming story that will inspire children to see their own unique beauty.


My Biggest Takeaways: Colorism & Self-Hate

Most of the books I’ve discussed on this blog up to this point have mostly been in the “adult literature” realm. But I decided to take a quick little break and indulge in a children’s book I was vaguely interested in since it was announced in early 2019.

When Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o (who you may know from Black Panther and the Star Wars sequel trilogy) announced that she was debuting a children’s book exploring colorism, my interest was piqued, mainly because 1.) I LOVE Lupita Nyong’o, 2.) it’s illustrated by Vashti Harrison (whom you might know as the illustrator of Hair Love), and 3.) Nyong’o’s childhood battle with colorism and self-hate, which is the basis for Sulwe, is very similar to my own.

The book is about a little girl named Sulwe, who is the darkest person in her family and her school. She is made fun of at school for her dark skin, while her lightskinned sister Mich is very popular; this causes her to feel inferior, and she goes through drastic, laughable measures to lighten her skin. I use the word “laughable” because I myself was made fun of at my mostly-white grade schools for being darkskinned, and the measures I took to “lighten” myself were almost as comical and futile as the ones Sulwe takes.

“Brightness is not in your skin, my love. Brightness is just who you are.”

Her mother tells her that her name, Sulwe, means “Star”, and reassures her that she is beautiful and that “brightness” is about what’s on the inside, not the outside. However, Sulwe doubts it. It isn’t until she’s taken by a shooting star on a magical little journey that she learns a fable about the sisters Night and Day (I won’t tell it here, you’ll have to read it). It’s through this tale that Sulwe learns to embrace both her darkness and her beauty.

I don’t have much else to say, other than Sulwe is a fun little read. Being a children’s picture book, it is short, simple and straightforward enough that a long, analytical post isn’t necessary. But the story does hit home for a lot of people, like me, who grew up in mostly white/light spaces, around people who made them feel inferior because of their dark skin.

It’s just too bad that we don’t have the benefit of being whisked away into the night sky by a shooting star to help us overcome our low self-esteem; that seems so much easier and so much more fun.


Did you read this book? If so, did you enjoy it? What elements of the story resonated with you the most?

Published by Bryan O.

Nigerian-American | Dallas, TX | twitter.com/Br0kani

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