A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Sulwe is the first picture book by Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o. It tells the story of a little girl who "was born the color of midnight" and feels she's treated differently than her lighter-skinned friends and family members because of it. The tale takes a magical turn when a star comes in her bedroom and takes her on a journey explaining the mythological origins of Day and Night -- who are sisters. After learning about the value and beauty of the dark night, she can embrace her dark skin, and feels "beautiful inside and out!" In an author's note at the end, Nyong'o, who was raised in Kenya, explains how she drew on her own experience to write this book: "Much like Sulwe, I got teased and taunted about my night-shade skin. ... Yes, it is important to feel good about yourself when you look in the mirror, but what is even more important is working to be beautiful inside." The book was also named a 2020 Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Honor Book for Vashti Harrison's illustrations.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
SULWE is a little girl who observes that she's treated differently and left out because her skin, "the color of midnight," is darker than that of her family members and schoolmates. While her lighter-skinned sister gets nicknames like "Sunshine," "Ray," and "Beauty," Sulwe gets called names like "Blackie," "Darky," and "Night." "Sulwe felt hurt every time." She tries to get lighter by rubbing her skin with an eraser, putting on light makeup, even eating light-colored foods. She prays for lighter skin, starting with "Dear Lord, Why do I look like midnight when my mother looks like dawn?" Her mother tells her that her name means "star" and says, "Brightness is not in your skin ... Brightness is just who you are." And she says, "Real beauty comes from your mind and your heart. It begins with how you see yourself, not how others see you." That night a star comes into her room and whisks her away through the sky, taking her back to the beginning of Time, when Night and Day were sisters. The star tells her how each day got divided into light and dark, each having its own value and beauty. Sulwe wakes up with a newfound appreciation of her own brightness and beauty.
Is it any good?
This empowering story of a girl who's feeling left out because of her looks uses myth and fantasy to teach a lesson about accepting who you are and discovering your own beauty. Lupita Nyong'o's story is gentle and engaging, and Vashti Harrison's dazzling art shows a wide range of emotions (Sulwe's big eyes convey a lot), with wonderful contrasts of radiant sunny gold and dark brown, black, blue, and purple. Sulwe is a warm and personal exploration of a topic rarely discussed in children's literature.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Sulwe explores the idea of beauty. How can different people have different ideas of what's beautiful?
Do you like magical stories and legends about how the natural world works? Have you ever dreamed of flying among the stars? Where would you go if you could fly?
Have you ever noticed people getting treated differently because of their skin color? Why is that not OK?
- Author: Lupita Nyong'o
- Illustrator: Vashti Harrison
- Genre: Picture Book
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Great Girl Role Models
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
- Publication date: October 15, 2019
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 4 - 8
- Number of pages: 48
- Available on: Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Award: Coretta Scott King Medal and Honors
- Last updated: January 27, 2020
Our editors recommend
For kids who love picture books and characters of color
Themes & Topics
Browse titles with similar subject matter.
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.