MTYT: Sulwe

Mary L. Fahrenbruck and Violet Henderson, New Mexico State University, NM

In their second MTYT installment, Mary Fahrenbruck and Violet Henderson provide their take on Sulwe written by Lupita Nyong’o and illustrated by Vashti Harrison. The picturebook is a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book for 2020.

VIOLET: The cover of this book first drew me in, in addition to the text being authored by Lupita Nyong’o. I couldn’t help but smile as I took in the young girl on the cover. It was like a breath of fresh air as I imagined the potential impact and the many smiles it would bring to the faces of young children who can see themselves in this young girl, Sulwe. As I flipped through the first few pages, I found Vashti Harrison’s use of dark, rich purple tones so soothing and the places where there was contrast between light and dark, just spectacular. Examining the illustrations throughout the rest of the book, a motif emerged that centered on the contrast between dark and light, aligning so well to the storyline.

MARY: Like you, Violet, Sulwe’s hand seemed to be reaching for me, inviting me to turn to the first page. In fact, layout and color in Harrison’s illustrations seem to pull my eyes into each page on the left and then draw my eyes across the double page spread before exiting through a specific point on the right page. It seems as if the placement of objects in the illustrations have a smooth rhythm and flow that keeps my eyes moving from one page to the next. For example, on the first double page spread the stars seem to be positioned at an angle from the top left of the page downward towards Sulwe. On the right page (to Sulwe’s left) the stars seem to angle up and away, toward the top corner of the illustration, beckoning me to turn the page. When I oblige and turn to the next double page spread, my eyes are at the top of the page where I immediately connect with Sulwe. On this same page, the text and illustrations lead me to the bottom right corner where see Sulwe sitting off to the side while her sister and friends play. When I turn the page, exiting this double page spread, I immediately connect with an image of Sulwe again! My eyes keep moving with the rhythm of the objects and vectors of each double page spread. This movement seems to happen for me on every double page spread.

VIOLET: Very accurate, Mary, the double page spreads are phenomenal! My eyes were enthusiastically absorbing the tranquil colors and smooth lines, which beckoned me to continue turning the page. Also, there is such a crucial message in this book that is filled with genuine emotion. That emotion is captured and felt so powerfully in each of the character’s faces, the position of their hands and bodies, and their bodies in relation to others. Referring to the spread where we find a tearful Sulwe sitting on the edge of her bed and her mother kneeling in front of her providing comfort, Harrison captures exceptional detail with distance and focus. The footboard of the bed, which is at the forefront of the illustration, is slightly blurred, offering the focal point to the interaction between Sulwe and her mother. The illustrations, along with the story, provide such an extraordinary literacy experience in Sulwe.

MARY: I agree! Reading picturebooks with such compelling visual narratives invites all readers to experience stories in deeply aesthetic ways. No wonder readers say they “LOVE” their favorite picturebooks! WOW readers, what’s your take on Sulwe? Leave a comment below. We would love to hear from you!

Title: Sulwe
Author: Lupita Nyong’o
Illustrator: Vashti Harrison
ISBN: 978-1534425361
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
PubDate: October 15, 2019

2020 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award
NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Children’s Literary Work

Throughout April 2020, Mary and Violet give their take on books that have won awards or honors this year. Check back each Wednesday to follow the conversation!

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