The Classroom Bookshelf
Inside The Classroom Bookshelf

Award-Winning Books Remind Young Readers They Belong: 2020 Caldecott Honor Book, Going Down Home with Daddy, and 2020 Coretta Scott King Illustrated Honor Book, Sulwe

Going Down Home with Daddy

Written by Kelly Starling Lyons

Illustrated by Daniel Minter

Published by Peachtree, 2019

ISBN 978-1-56145-938-4

Grades K-5

Book Review

Lil Alan has a problem. At the family reunion, everyone else seems to have something to share to pay tribute to their family and the legacy of their late Pa except him. Kelly Starling Lyons’ lyrical text is full of figurative language and sensory details that capture the vibrance of the family reunion and the authentic concerns of a boy trying to show his family how much their shared history means to him. With poignant references to Langston Hughes, Gospel hymns, and the Jim Crow era, Going Down Home with Daddy is a celebration of family reunion traditions of Black Americans. Winner of the 2020 Caldecott Honor Award, illustrator Daniel Minter’s brightly hued and textured paintings vividly portray the joy and love of this “mighty family” as well as the feelings of self doubt Lil Alan experiences and somber moments of remembrance.  Going Down Home with Daddy is a welcome addition to units of study on families and a masterful mentor text for the study of craft techniques that lift will lift the narrative writing of students to new levels. 


Written by Lupita Nyong’o

Illustrated by Vashti Harrison

Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019

ISBN 978-1-5344-2536-1

Grades K-5

Book Review

“How could she, as dark as she was, have brightness in her? How could she have beauty when no one but her mother seemed to see it? How could she be a star?” Meet Sulwe, a young girl with skin the color of midnight and a name meaning “star” in her native language, Luo. With skin darker than everyone in her family and darker than anyone at school, Sulwe dreams of being the same golden skin color as her sister and having real friends. In her quest for belonging, she tries to erase layers of darkness from her skin; she tries to cover up her skin with her mother’s makeup; and she eats the lightest, brightest foods in an attempt to change her skin from the inside out. When none of it works, Sulwe tearfully tells everything to her Mama who gently reminds Sulwe of her beauty and the power of her name. That night, a shooting star appears at Sulwe’s window and whisks her away to the beginning of time to witness the sisterhood struggles of Night and Day which parallel the experiences of Sulwe and her lighter-skinned sister. Sulwe returns from her adventure reminded of her Mama’s words that “Brightness is not in your skin…Brightness is just who you are”.  Recipient of the 2020 Corretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award, Vashti’s Harrison’s golden and purple-hued digital illustrations capture the beauty and brilliance of night, day, and the various shades of skin tones of the characters. Author and Oscar-winning Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o includes an author’s note about her own journey to see beauty in her “night-shaded skin”. A sensitive exploration of colorism, Sulwe is a read aloud sure to inspire conversations about the beauty of who we are, where we are from, and how we can love ourselves. 

Teaching Ideas and Invitations for Both Books

Why Am I Me? Where Am I From? Asking Big Questions to Tell Stories From Our Lives. Both Going Down Home with Daddy and Sulwe explore big questions of who we are and where we are from. Read these books along with Why Am I Me? by Britt Paige, Where Are You From? By Yamile Saied Méndez, I Am Enough by Grace Byers, Hair Love by Matthew Cherry, or view the Oscar-winning short film Hair Love in a text set about our myriad identities and self-acceptance. Using these books as a guide, support students to write about the things they love about themselves and their families, moments of identity challenges, and self-acceptance. 

Dialogue and Internal Thinking. The dialogue characters say to one another and the internal voices of Lil Alan and Sulwe have an emotional impact on us as readers. Use Going Down Home with Daddy and Sulwe to introduce students to the power of crafting dialogue and internal thinking to create characters that feel real and authentic. Have students select lines of dialogue and internal thinking that capture their attention. Use these selections as mentor sentences to write dialogue and internal thinking using shared or interactive writing. Support students to use both books throughout the year to add dialogue and internal thinking to their independent narrative writing. 

Vivid Settings. Both books vividly portray the settings of the stories through the words and illustrations. Support students to identify how the authors uniquely crafted the settings through the use of precise words. Then draw students’ attention to how the illustrators portray the various settings through the use of color, shading, and layout. Encourage students to focus on how to craft vivid settings through their writing and illustrations use Going Home with Daddy and/or Sulwe as guides. 

American Library Association Annual Awards. Both Going Down Home with Daddy and Sulwe won American Library Association Illustrator awards in 2020. Research with students the Caldecott Award and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award. Gather other award winning books from past winners  and have students create their own criteria for what they believe earns these prestigious awards. Then have students compare and contrast their criteria with the actual award criteria. You may even want to have the class develop their own Best of the Best for each award. 

Countering Doubt and Negative Self Talk. Both Lil Alan and Sulwe struggle at times with feelings of self doubt and negative self talk. Use Going Down Home with Daddy and Sulwe as part of a text set that supports social and emotional learning and development with students. Support students to share whatever reaction they have to the stories and the dilemmas of the characters without requiring students to make personal connections that could be discomforting or trauma-inducing. Discuss ways that Lil Alan and Sulwe overcome these feelings through the ways their family support them to feel a sense of belonging such as when Daddy tells Lil Alan to “think with your heart” and Sulwe’s Mama tells her “Real beauty comes from your mind and your heart.” Support students to consider the ways they can counter negative self talk using Lil Alan and Sulwe as models by looking to those that love them for affirmation, the power of self affirmation, and thinking with our hearts. 

Teaching Ideas and Invitations for Going Down Home with Daddy

Family Structures and Community Gatherings. Create a text set that honors diverse family structures and family and community gatherings. Consider beginning with the book Who’s in My Family?: All About Our Families (see our Classroom Bookshelf entry on this text for many teaching invitations related to an exploration of families). Work with your school or local public librarian to be sure that your read an array of titles that reflect diverse family circumstances. Consult booklists such as Social Justice Books: Learning About Family Structures and the CCBC’s Recommended Picture Books Featuring Multiracial Families. Include books like Cynthia Rylant’s The Relatives Came (family gathering), A Most Unusual Day by Sydra Mallery (adoption), Still a Family by Brenda Reeves Sturgis (homelessness), Shelly Rotner’s photo essay Families (diverse family structures), Karen Hesse’s Night Job (working nights), and Bao Phi’s A Different Pond (immigration). Use these books as a way for students to write their own family and community stories.  (This invitation originally appeared in our entry on Alma and How She Got Her Name). 

Celebrating Our Histories. Lil Alan worries that his cousins all have a way to celebrate their family history during the reunion except for him. His sister is going to sing Granny’s favorite song. Isaiah is reading a Langston Hughes poem. Devin made a scrapbook in Granny’s favorite color. Lil Alan decides to present his family with a variety of treasures he found on their land. Create an anchor chart as a class with ways they can celebrate their families or communities. What are the favorite songs of the people they love? Poems they can recite? Art they can create? Objects they can gather? Support students to create personal projects that they can gift to their families and communities using Going Down Home with Daddy as a guide.  

Sensory Details and Precise Word Choice. From the first page, Kelly Starling Lyons uses lyrical language and a variety of word choices to capture our imaginations and vividly describe the setting, the characters, and the emotions Lil Alan feels. Support students to closely read select sentences and phrases taking note of Lyons’ word choices such as “the sky is still dark with sleep” and “sweep of sparkling stars”. You may want to use Going Down Home with Daddy to introduce similes, metaphors, and alliteration. Have students select their favorite sentences as mentor sentences for writing their own sensory-rich and varied sentences. 

Cultural and Historical Referencing. Kelly Starling Lyons incorporates cultural and historical references into the narrative in ways that intentionally ignite our interest and curiosity. Identify moments in the book where Lyons refers to iconic texts such as the Langston Hughes poem “Mother to Son” and the Gospel hymn “His Eye Is On the Sparrow”. Read these as companion texts to the book and discuss why these references are important to Lil Alan’s family heritage. Lyons further references the enslavement of Africans and Jim Crow laws when Daddy talks about their land and their family history. Support students to understand the significance of this historical referencing as part of Lil Alan’s family history. 

Teaching Ideas and Invitations for Sulwe

Name Stories. Sulwe is reminded by her Mama that her name means “star”. Yet, Sulwe is given names by others like “Blackie”, “Darky,” and “Night” that hurt every time she hears them. Her name story affirms her beauty and radiance and counters the hateful words of others. Support students to consider the beauty of Sulwe’s name and to empathize with how she feels through the nicknames others give her based on her skin tone. While mindful of the varied background of students in your class, particularly of students who belong to foster and adoptive families, open a discussion of names and identity. Consider having students interview family members about the origins of their names. Pair Sulwe with other books that celebrate name stories such as Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal, Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes, My Name is Yoon by Helen Recovits, My Name is Sangoel by Karen Lynn Williams, My Name is Aviva by Leslea Newman, and Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie.

Personification of Stars, Night, and Day. Lupita Nyong’o incorporates the story of a shooting star whisking Sulwe from her room to the beginning of time to witness the love, rivalry, pain, and redemption of two sisters, Night and Day. Support students to consider the ways in which this fantasy story parallels Sulwe’s experiences. What is the effect these personified characters have on us as readers? Using shared or interactive writing, create a class fantasy story that personifies something from the natural world. Consider creating a class picture book of the story where students partner to illustrate each page. Share your creation with other classes or students’ families.  

Critical Literacy

Countering Colorism. Sulwe is a book that invites complicated conversations about skin color and colorism. Author Nyong’o explains that society’s preference for lighter skin is prevalent all over the world: “It’s not just a prejudice reserved for places with a largely white population. Throughout the world, even in Kenya, even today, there is a popular sentiment that lighter is brighter.” Gather and share other books that celebrate the beauty of various shades of skin color like Shades of People by Shelley Rotner and Shelia Kelly, The Colors of Us by Karen Katz, Skin Again by bell hooks, and Same, Same But Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw. Be open to students’ discussion about these books by following their thoughts, reactions, and questions.

Further Explorations 

Digital Resources

Kelly Starling Lyons’ Site

New York Times article on Sulwe’s Release

Lupita Nyong’o 2014 Black Women in Hollywood Speech

Sulwe’s Song

American Library Association, Caldecott Medal

American Library Association, Coretta Scott King Book Award


Alexie, S. (2016). Thunder boy jr. New York: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. 

Britt, P. (2017). Why am I me? Ill. by S. Qualls and S. Alko. New York: Scholastic.

Byers, G. (2018). I am enough. New York: Balzer + Bray. 

Harris, R. (2012). Who’s in my family?: All about our families. Ill. by N. Bernard Wescott. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Henkes, K. (1991). Chrysanthemum. New York: Greenwillow.

Hesse, K. (2018). Night job. Ill. by G.B. Karas. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

hooks, b. (2004). Skin again. New York: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. 

Katz, K. (2002). The colors of us. New York: Square Fish Books. 

Kostecki-Shaw, J. (2011). Same, same but different. New York: Henry Holt. 

Kuklin, S. (2006). Families. New York: Hyperion Books for Children.

Martinez-Neal, J. (2018). Alma and how she got her name. Somerville, MA: Candlewick. 

Méndez, Y. (2019). Where are you from? New York: HarperCollins.

Newman, L. (2015). My name is Aviva. Ill. by A.Jatkowska. Minneapolis, MN: Kar-Ben Publishing.

Phi, B. (2017). A different pond. Ill. by T. Bui. Edina, MN: Capstone Books for Young Readers.

Recorvits, H. (2003). My name is Yoon. Ill. by G. Swiatkowska. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.

Rotner, S. & Kelly, S. (2010). Shades of people. Holiday House. 

Rylant, C. (1993). The relatives came. New York: Aladdin. 

Katie Cunningham About Katie Cunningham

Katie is a Professor of Literacy and English Education at Manhattanville College. There she is also the Director of the Advanced Certificate Program in Social and Emotional Learning and Whole Child Education. Her work focuses on children’s literature, joyful literacy methods, and literacy leadership. Katie is the author of Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning and co-author of Literacy Leadership in Changing Schools. Her book Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness will be released September 2019. She is passionate about the power of stories to transform lives.