Weekend read: Sulwe by Lupita Nyong'o and Vashti Harrison

Joy Matiri.jpg

Article by: Joy Matiri

Publication date:

Sulwe by Lupita Nyong'o is a children's book about a young girl struggling with her appearance.

Sulwe was born the colour of midnight.

The story is about a young girl on a mission to lighten her skin. She tries all the tools at her disposal. First, the eraser does not work and her mother's make up does not work. Next, she decides to eat only light coloured foods and change herself from the inside. After that fails too, she turns to God.

Although written for children, Sulwe is a pleasure to read. It is a book that would have saved me a lot of anguish when I was 5 years old. In writing it, Lupita Nyong'o draws from her own experiences as a dark-skinned woman in this book and what a huge difference it makes! Tackling the topic of colourism is no small feat. Imagine trying to explain it to children when adults have trouble understanding and recognising it.

Talking about the book, Lupita said she grew up feeling uncomfortable with her skin colour because the world around her rewarded lighter skin. She goes on to say that she was rejected at local auditions and told that she was too dark to be on TV.

Words like sunshine, dawn and light are used to describe light skin and beauty. Children with lighter skin get compliments like pretty and beautiful. Light skin is beautiful. The two are the same in Sulwe's world and in our world too.

Sulwe goes on an adventure through the night. She learns that light is not to be contained inside the skin. And that darkness is far from ugly. By the end, Sulwe comes to a better understanding of herself and a recognition of her own beauty.

Sulwe is beautifully illustrated. You can get copies in Swahili or Dholuo.

Sulwe is available at a Text Book Center near you.