Review of Sulwe

by Lupita Nyong’o; illus. by Vashti Harrison
Preschool, Primary    Simon    48 pp.
10/19    978-1-5344-2536-1    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5344-2537-8    $10.99

In a story partially based on the author’s childhood in Kenya, “Sulwe was born the color of midnight.” So begins a journey to self-love for a little girl whose name means “star” and who, because of her dark skin, does not feel beautiful. At school she is treated differently from her lighter-complexioned sister, who is given nicknames such as “Sunshine,” “Ray,” and “Beauty,” while Sulwe is hurtfully called “Blackie,” “Darky,” and “Night.” Desperately attempting to make herself lighter, the despondent girl tries to remove “a layer or two of her darkness” with an eraser, eats only light-colored foods, and offers fervent prayers to God, but nothing works. Then one night a visit from a shooting star changes everything. Swooped up into the cosmos, Sulwe learns about two sisters, Night and Day, from “the beginning of Time.” Through the allegorical tale the star tells her (unfolding over much of the book), Sulwe comes to understand that her ebony skin is beautiful and that darkness and light are equally necessary to the universe. Glowing illustrations capture the beauty of both light and dark; Nyong’o’s text is clear and engaging. An author’s note expresses the hope that “more and more children begin their lives knowing that they are beautiful.”

From the January/February 2020 Horn Book Magazine.

Monique Harris

Monique Harris is a public educator, reading specialist and independent educational consultant. She holds a Master of Science degree in Education from Simmons University, and is enrolled in a PhD program at Florida State University.

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