Harrison’s new illustrations appear in Nyong’o “Sulwe,” which means “star” in a Kenyan dialect, Luo. It’s the story of a Sulwe, a girl who has skin the color of “midnight.” She is darker than the rest of her family. One night, she prays to God, “Please make me as fair as the parents I am from. … May I wake up as bright as the sun in the sky?”
In a tweet, Nyong’o said she wrote the book “to inspire children (and everyone really!) to love the skin they are in & to see the beauty that radiates from within.”
Jumping for joy because my book #Sulwe will be on shelves in exactly two months! (More info: https://t.co/t1MlJIeEkC) The power of children's books is how their value appreciates with time – we love them now and understand them later. pic.twitter.com/Y3ab3IsCBV— Lupita Nyong'o (@Lupita_Nyongo) August 15, 2019
UVA Today reached out to Harrison to learn how she and Nyong’o began collaborating and how Harrison approached the art for the book, which goes on sale Oct.15. She also offered UVA Today readers a tantalizing sneak preview of her forthcoming book, “Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History,” which will hit bookshelves just in time for the holiday season.
Q. How did you get connected with Lupita?
A. Just like any other picture book, Lupita, the author, signed a deal with the publisher, Simon and Schuster. She works with the editor, the super-talented Zareen Jaffrey, to get the manuscript perfect. Meanwhile the art director, Laurent Linn, starts looking for illustrators. I was among a number of others who were sent the manuscript to read and consider. I did a sample illustration of one spread and together they decided they liked mine, so I was sent an offer. That’s typically how it works for every picture book.
Q. What is the book about?
A. Sulwe is a girl with skin the color of midnight. She’s the darkest in her family and teased at school. She goes on an adventure through the stars to learn how to love herself and find the light inside.
Q. How did you approach the art for this book?
A. I knew I’d be working with a lot of dark colors, lots of blues, blacks and purples, both for Sulwe’s skin and for the night sky. For that reason, I wanted to make sure I had the latitude in my palette to get those subtleties. I do typically illustrate digitally, but I am not exclusively a digital artist. In the end, I thought digital would be the best medium to emphasize those nuances in light and dark. I wanted to use lighting and highlights and negative and positive to visually make Sulwe stand out, to give deep richness to her skin and clarify her isolation at times. Her eyes needed to pop and be really clear, to express those intense emotions that, to be honest, may not be visible because those subtle facial expressions might otherwise not be visible.