cover image Sulwe


Lupita Nyong’o, illus. by Vashti Harrison. Simon & Schuster, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-1-5344-2536-1

Sulwe, “born the color of midnight,” has close-cropped hair and the darkest skin in her family. “Mama was the color of dawn, Baba the color of dusk, and Mich, her sister, was the color of high noon.” When Sulwe’s schoolmates call her names, she endeavors to lighten her skin, and even her mother’s wisdom (“Brightness is not in your skin... Brightness is just who you are”) cannot convince her of her inherent worth. A nested fable shows Sulwe what happens when Night and Day, two magnificent sisters, react to peoples’ initial preference for Day’s light. In frustration, Night retreats, taking dreams and secrets with her, until Day, and humankind, begin to miss Night: “we need you just the way you are.” Though the fable strikes one odd note (“we need you so that we can... keep our secrets to ourselves”), the story draws its power from graceful prose by actress Nyong’o, making her authorial debut, and expertly executed animation-style art by Harrison (Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History). By turns beguiling (as when Sulwe’s mother counsels her tearful daughter) and magical (a shooting star darts into Sulwe’s room to share the story of Night and Day), the volume also clearly conveys that colorism is real, and it hurts. Sulwe’s story confronts it head-on, with words and images that celebrate the “dark and beautiful, bright and strong.” Ages 4–8. [em](Oct.) [/em]