Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o

by Gurpreet Sihat

I’ve wanted a copy of Sulwe since it was published in October last year. I searched for it, but every shop I went to – both online and physical – were either always waiting for new stock or were being sold for up to £60 each. I wanted it desperately, but not even I could justify that much for a children’s book. So I was overjoyed when I received it for my birthday this year. I set aside all my other gifts and read it from cover to cover, twice as my tear-blurred vision definitely stole some details from me the first-time round.   

Sulwe is the story of a girl who wishes her midnight skin would be lighter. She frantically tries to do something about it: she rubs her skin out with an eraser, she puts on make-up and eats food that is light in colour. Eventually she prays and in answer to her prayer comes a star with a story. It’s with the help of this fable about the day and the night that Lupita Nyong’o assures us, just as the star assures Sulwe, that we are all beautiful, not regardless but because of the colour of our skin. 

My parents faced racism and colourism head on when they left Africa and moved to London. I’ve been lucky enough to be brought up to love the colour of my skin, even though I often feel too English to be African, too African to be Indian, and too Indian to be English. Sulwe, with its magnificent illustrations and heart-warming story reminded me of all those lessons I’ve learned over the years. Love and empowerment and beauty dripping from every single page. 

I actually gave it to my Dad to read. He’s partially blind in one eye so struggles to read, but he read Sulwe, took a minute and started again. I haven’t seen him so emotional over a book in my entire life.

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