"I wanted to narrate the audiobook for Sulwe myself in order to bring to life the characters as I had imagined them," the actress says of her upcoming audiobook

By Sam Gillette
January 22, 2021 10:00 AM
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Lupita Nyong'o performs Sulwe
| Credit: Matthew Soltesz

Lupita Nyong'o is adding a magical performance to go along with her inspirational children's book, Sulwe.

On Friday, the Us actress exclusively shared with PEOPLE that she's narrated an audiobook of her award-winning 2019 story that follows 5-year-old Sulwe, who has the darkest skin color in her family and wants to be beautiful like her mother and sister. Only after a magical trip through the night sky does the young girl — whose name means "star" — learn how special and lovely she is.

"Listening to a book read aloud is such a personal, intimate way to experience the characters and story," said Nyong'o, 37, in an exclusive statement about Sulwe, the audiobook edition, which will be released by Listening Library on Feb. 23. "I wanted to narrate the audiobook for Sulwe myself in order to bring to life the characters as I had imagined them in my head when writing the book."

The actress
| Credit: Matthew Soltesz

"The character of Mama, for one, is inspired by my own mother, and it was rewarding to emulate the warmth, calm and compassion that she continues to comfort and guide me with to this day," she continued. "I had so much fun performing the voices for Sulwe, her family, Night, and Day and I can't wait for readers to hear them."

Since it published in 2019, Sulwe has gone on to earn a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor and the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Children's Literary Work. But, most importantly, Nyong'o's book has inspired children to love themselves, no matter the color of their skin.

The book, illustrated by Vashti Harrison, was inspired by Nyong'o's own painful experiences with colorism.

Credit: Simon and Schuster

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"I wrote my children's book Sulwe based on my experience with colorism from a very young age," the actress told PEOPLE in November 2019. "My goal was to plant a seed of self-worth in children just as they are starting to get a sense of the larger world, and internalizing how other people see them."

While colorism is a difficult topic to explain to little ones, Nyong'o wanted to address it and the importance of self-love in an accessible, nurturing way.

"Although colorism is a heavy topic," she said at the time, "it was important to me that Sulwe's story have warmth, whimsy and exist in a land of dreams."