Book Review: Sulwe

Book Reviewed by Shafika Burke

Do our young black girls have enough willpower to face whatever life throws at them? Do they look at themselves and see beauty, or the lack of? Have we successfully convinced them that regardless of their skin color they are enough? Or do they have random meltdowns like Sulwe because they are dark-skinned? Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o is a book every black person should read because it reiterates a strong message on colorism. It tells of a little girl who “has skin the color of midnight” and rigorously tries to “rub off a layer or two of her darkness.” Sulwe believes that because of her skin color she isn’t beautiful or capable of making friends, so she prays to God for deliverance. She asks the Lord to make her “bright as the sun in the sky,” but little did Sulwe know inside her was the sun and all its rays.

After waking up the next morning to discover her prayer unanswered, Sulwe turns to her mother for help. She reminds Sulwe her name means “star” and that she is beautiful, on the inside and out. Her mother is extremely encouraging and pours nothing but love and positivity into her daughter. Sulwe, however, is not convinced until she takes a trip into the sky. The journey shows Sulwe that we each have a place and purpose in the world; that is what makes us unique and charming. Beauty lies in the day as much as in the night because they each have specific capabilities. There is a different type of light in both, the same way Sulwe’s light differs from that of her sister, but for Sulwe’s light to shine she had to be able to see it. A trip into the dark sky causes the light of this little girl to grow from dim to bright and as a young black girl, she rekindles her spark. I wish every black girl never loses theirs! And if they do, they should join Sulwe on her sky-trip!

This amazing children’s book should be on the shelves of children across the globe. It tells a story that is etched in Black history and is still prevalent today. From the 19th-century paper bag test to modern-day skin bleaching, colorism has caused problems of acceptance among African Americans for too long. Black is beautiful! Black is beautiful! Black is beautiful! These words must be poured into African American youth so they grow confident that their skin is beautiful and will not determine how far they can go.

Sulwe is illustrated by Vashti Harrison and without the accompaniment of words, her illustrations strongly depict the struggles and triumph of young Sulwe. There is power in the way Harrison depicts the black family and all their differences. Her illustrations are life-like and grab readers, taking them inside the book; it’s almost as if it’s a viewing of a movie in 3D.

Engraved in every word written by Lupita Nyong’o is the power that should be present in all Black children. It is the power that many continuously try to take away but fail because it is locked away safely in the hearts of our people. Sulwe tapped into her power, and so should everyone!

Read Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers’s description of Sulwe.
Black Power Line

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