Sulwe: The night star
By Rose Kwamboka
| June 11th 2021
Sulwe grows up wanting to be as light-toned as her mother, sister and friends. She is as dark as night. She does not fit in with the rest of her friends. One day Sulwe comes home from school and uses an eraser and her mother’s makeup to rub her blackness out.
When this was unsuccessful, Sulwe tells her mother that she does not want to return to school the next day. That night, a shooting star visits Sulwe in her dreams and takes her on a journey into night to see why darkness is important.
In the magical trip, Sulwe sees how the night was treated badly until she left earth. Earth became one continuous day. There was no sleep and people wanted their dreams of night back. Day journeyed to night and said “I miss you” and the feeling was mutual.
Sun needed moon’s shadows for day to function, and moon benefitted from the light of stars that are only seen in the dark of night. Even though Sulwe might not appreciate her darkness now, it is important, just as light is.
Captivating and strong, this is a great debut as author for Lupita Nyong’o. Sulwe, is a Luo word meaning star. The takeaway message is how beautiful dark skin is and how much light(ness) can’t survive without darkness. The illustrations drive the empowering and powerful words on these pages that celebrate beauty in its full splendor. Though a simple concept, this is an impacting message.
The illustrations are a vivid work of art. Vashti brings beauty, magic and dream-like quality to her illustrations, which is stunning and gives the story so much life. Some of the spreads could be made into posters and displayed as works of art.
Lupita speaks to the Sulwe in us saying “Don’t wait for anyone to tell you what is beautiful. Know that you are beautiful because you choose to be”. The story is drawn from her own personal experience with colourism. Her mother tenderly related that it is what is inside, her qualities and abilities, that are important, not her skin color. Today, Nyong’o is a successful actress and now a writer.
The only downside to the book is the language, which may be a little difficult and wordy for the target age (between five and seven), and the font too tiny. Older kids may enjoy it more.
In the end, Sulwe makes a wonderful read, though sad, with an important message for all black kids to read.
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