Sulwe is the debut picture book by Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o. It is a very relevant book for today’s world and shows that the racial divide goes far beyond that of black and white. This is a beautiful and heartwarming story about a young black girl who is in a desperate search for brightness.
Sulwe looks nothing like anyone else. She is darker than her family and the children at school call her hurtful names. More than anything, she wants to be like her sister with skin the colour of high-noon. She tries all sorts of ways to turn her skin lighter and get rid of the darkness but nothing works. Her mother knows that Sulwe is beautiful but Sulwe struggles to see how there could be brightness in something so dark. Then a visit from a shooting star and a magical lesson in night and day helps Sulwe see the true beauty in people.
This story is powerful and poignant. What is highlighted in this story is that even within a particular race of people there are prejudice towards each other brought about by skin tone. Every character in the book is black. The lesson that is taught by Sulwe’s mother and the characters of Night and Day is that there is beauty in everyone. You should be proud of the skin you are in and remember that real beauty comes from within. Beauty is definitely more than just skin deep.
The illustrations by Vashti Harrison are big, bold, and bring the characters to life - they almost seem to be leaping off the page. The double page spread when the shooting star visits Sulwe is particularly mesmerising. The author’s note is empowering. Nyong’o reveals that the story is based on her own personal experiences as she was ridiculed about the colour of her skin when she was growing up. Hopefully this book will develop empathy and understanding so that future ‘Sulwes’ do not have to suffer the same experiences as both the main character and the author.
A book that deserves a place on the shelf of every child’s bookcase and a reminder to all children that they are beautiful just the way they are.
Recommended for 5+.