Book review by
Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media
Sulwe Book Poster Image
Girl learns to embrace her dark skin in magical tale.

Parents say

age 2+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 5+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Presents a myth about how days became divided into day and night. Readers can compare that myth with any legends they've learned in their culture, and with the scientific view of Earth's rotation. Also introduces kids to idea that some people get treated differently because of the lightness or darkness of their skin, even within a country or community of dark-skinned people. 

Positive Messages

"Brightness is not in your skin ... Brightness is just who you are." "Real beauty comes from your mind and your heart. It begins with how you see yourself, not how others see you." From the author's note: "What is on the outside is only one part of being beautiful. 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. That means being kind to yourself and others. That is the beauty that shines through." "Don't wait for anyone to tell you what is beautiful. Know that you are beautiful because you choose to be. Know that you always were and always can be."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Sulwe struggles with accepting who she is and appreciating how she looks, but in the end she does. Her mother gives her love and support, tells her she's beautiful, helps Sulwe to feel beautiful inside and out. 

Violence & Scariness

The story says "people give Sulwe names like 'Blackie,' 'Darky,' and 'Night.'" But there are no instances of anyone calling her these or any other names in dialogue.

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. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byDSTVBBB September 7, 2020
Teen, 17 years old Written byAlicia Mendoza February 12, 2021

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? 

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love picture books and characters of color

Themes & Topics

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