MLK Living the Dream Book Award

On Friday, June 4, 2021, Manhattan Country School, Central Park East II and Children’s Workshop School, will present the MLK Living the Dream Book Award to the children’s book Sulwe, written by Lupita Nyong’o and illustrated by Vashti Harrison, in a live ceremony online. The “Living the Dream” Book Award culminates a yearlong private/public school partnership, initiated by MCS in 1990. The award is presented to a children’s picture book that embodies the values of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Students write their own criteria for the award: a main character fighting for equal rights, a meaningful message relating to what Dr. King fought for or what he would fight for today, and expressive illustrations. They measure several children’s books against the criteria, debate the merits of the final selections, and choose the award-winning book. Throughout the process, each student participates in active discussions with children from each school. The group discussions focus on themes of racial and social justice, LGBTQ rights, advocacy and inequality. This process not only encourages students to use their voices to express their opinions and insights, but also allows them space to grow as writers, readers and listeners.

This year’s honoree, Sulwe, is a poignant and powerful depiction of a girl who feels excluded  because of colorism. The story uses a beautiful myth to help us learn about identity and one’s own definition of beauty. Sulwe was “born the color of midnight” and is treated differently from others, including her own family. The turning point in the story happens when a magical star visits her one evening and takes her on a journey of discovery and wonder about what makes someone beautiful. In an author's note at the end of the book, Nyong'o, who was raised in Kenya, explains how she drew on her own experience to write this book: "Much like Sulwe, I got teased and taunted about my night-shade skin. ... Yes, it is important to feel good about yourself when you look in the mirror, but what is even more important is working to be beautiful inside.” One of our participating students said that the story “...had an impact on me because I’ve never seen a story that had someone like me in it!”
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