Sulwe

Sulwe
Lupita Nyong’o and Vashti Harrison
Puffin Books

You’ll surely be awed by the sheer beauty of the illustrations in this wonderful book.

It tells of young Sulwe (her name means star in the Kenyan Luo language) who was ‘born the colour of midnight.’ Her skin is darker than anyone else in her multi-hued family and when children at school call her names, Sulwe decides to lighten her skin. Nothing she tries, however, makes any difference,

and next morning her mother talks to her of her inner brightness and beauty; still though Sulwe isn’t convinced:

how can she be a star, she wonders.

That same night on a magical journey she discovers a fable wherein two sisters Night and Day get very different reactions from people, those towards Day are positive while Night receives negative ones. As a result she leaves the earth taking with her dreams and secrets, until her sister’s “we need you just the way you are” persuades her to return.

Now Sulwe understands that she too is “Dark and beautiful, bright and strong.’

This is a debut picture book for Kenyan actor/producer Lupita Nyong’o who based the story on her own childhood experience. She confronts the crucial and sensitive topic of skin colour head on, but in a way that young children can relate to. (I recall being extremely distressed when I first started teaching to find a 5- year old boy from Nigeria covering his arms with white chalk. He told me that he was trying to get his skin light like his friends. Nothing I said could persuade him that he was just perfect as he was.) Vashti Harrison wonderful illustrations are a celebration of all skin tones reinforcing Lupita’s message that everyone, like Sulwe, is uniquely beautiful, inside and out.

A must have book for all primary schools.