I don’t think I have read a picture book since I was actually the age for reading picture books. But one of the prompts (#4) for The Reading Women Challenge 2020 is to read a Picture Book by a BIPOC Author, so here was my chance to try something “new.” I had legitimately no idea where to start or how to pick a “good” book from this genre, so I did a little searching. And I’ll be honest, it seems like there are so many really awesome and diverse new stories for kids out there than there were when I read children’s picture books! So that’s an uplifting move in the right direction. Anyways, I have to say that I chose this one because of name recognition. That’s maybe not always the best reason for something, but in this case, it got me. Plus, if the cover was any indication of the quality of illustration, I figured it would be, at the very least, a beautiful visual choice.
Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o
“Brightness is not in your skin, my love. Brightness is just who you are.”
Sulwe is a young girl whose skin is darker than the rest of her family, and everyone else in her class, and she’s very self-conscious about it. She tries lots of ways to make her skin lighter, but none of them work. Then one night she has a dream, in which a shooting star (Sulwe’s name means star), tells her a story about two sisters, Day and Night. And the moral of this story helps Sulwe realize that she has her own, special beauty, both inside and outside, and she wakes up proud of and happy with who she is.
This was a really sweet and uplifting story. The message about beauty being deeper than your physical looks is important and universal. And in this case Nyong’o took it a wonderful step further by showing young, “night-shaded skin,” girls like herself MCs that look just like them. (Read her Author’s Note, it’s very touching.) I really enjoyed the fable-like story about Day and Night. I loved the meaning of the story, that even though people usually say more nice things about Day than Night, both are necessary and important for their own reasons and loved in their own ways. In particular, the visualization of them coming back together, with “a little bit of Night returned to Day in the form of shadows. And a little bit of Day returned to Night in the form of moonlight,” was one of my favorite parts. Also, I was completely right about the illustrations – Harrison’s pictures are gorgeous and I was visually blown away by the graphics on every single page. Ugh, stunning.
I don’t think I’m going to suddenly start reading lots of picture books, but what I can say is that I truly appreciate this chance to try reading something completely out of my norm. It’s a lovely story, with beautiful graphics, and a very essential message. If I had kids, I would definitely read this to them.