Desmond and the Very Mean Word

Overview

Based on a true story from Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s childhood in South Africa, Desmond and the Very Mean Word reveals the power of words and the secret of forgiveness.

When Desmond takes his new bicycle out for a ride through his neighborhood, his pride and joy turn to hurt and anger when a group of boys shout a very mean word at him. He first responds by shouting an insult, but soon discovers that fighting back with mean words doesn’t make him feel any better. With the help of...

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Overview

Based on a true story from Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s childhood in South Africa, Desmond and the Very Mean Word reveals the power of words and the secret of forgiveness.

When Desmond takes his new bicycle out for a ride through his neighborhood, his pride and joy turn to hurt and anger when a group of boys shout a very mean word at him. He first responds by shouting an insult, but soon discovers that fighting back with mean words doesn’t make him feel any better. With the help of kindly Father Trevor, Desmond comes to understand his conflicted feelings and see that all people deserve compassion, whether or not they say they are sorry. Brought to vivid life in A. G. Ford’s energetic illustrations, this heartfelt, relatable story conveys timeless wisdom about how to handle bullying and angry feelings, while seeing the good in everyone.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
When a group of white boys hurl racial epithets at young Desmond, he turns to his mentor, Father Trevor. But the priest’s advice—forgiveness instead of retribution—isn’t what Desmond wants to hear. “Let me tell you a secret, Desmond,” Father Trevor advises him. “When you forgive someone, you free yourself from what they have said or done. It’s like magic.” This morality tale from Archbishop Tutu and Abrams, who previously collaborated on God’s Dream, does indeed end with forgiveness and a quiet reconciliation between Desmond and one of his tormentors. However, no historical context is provided within the framework of the story (a brief intro alludes to apartheid); without more clues as to what life was like in a society that institutionalized racism, readers may be puzzled why Father Trevor doesn’t assert his moral authority on behalf of Desmond. Yes, forgiveness is important, but what about justice? Ford’s oil illustrations do a fine job of capturing the dusty days of township life, as well as Desmond’s dark nights of the soul. Ages 6–10. Agent: Lynn Franklin, Lynn Franklin Associates. Illustrator’s agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Jan.)
School Library Journal
K-Gr 3—Archbishop Tutu describes the power of words and the secret of forgiveness in a story from his South African childhood during apartheid. One day Desmond rides his bike past a gang of boys, one of whom calls him "a very mean word." The pain of the word stays with him for days, following him around "like a shadow in the hot sun." A few days later, Desmond retaliates with a mean word of his own, but it leaves a "bitter taste in his mouth." Father Trevor recommends forgiveness, but the child is not ready to forgive someone who has not apologized. A week later, he sees his tormentor being harassed and is surprised to feel sorry for him. That moment sets the stage for Desmond's act of forgiveness, and he finally experiences the "magic" about which Father Trevor spoke. Ford's richly colored paintings capture life in the South African township. Light is a strong element, from the blazing sun to deep shades of night and sadness. The story avoids a preachy tone by staying true to Desmond's emotions and his struggle to reach a moral high ground. The book is both a lesson and a slice of life, giving insight into the person Archbishop Tutu became as an adult. The preface explains apartheid in child-friendly language, and the afterword tells more about the real Father Trevor. Some children might feel frustrated that the "very mean words" are never specified, but the real point of the story is the personal power one derives from letting go of revenge.—Suzanne Myers Harold, Multnomah County Library System, Portland, OR
Kirkus Reviews
Archbishop Tutu, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, remembers a life-changing and life-affirming moment from his childhood in racist South Africa. The boy Desmond is out for a ride on his brand-new bicycle when a white boy shouts a terrible word at him. That word is never specified, but it is one that he cannot forget. Very upset, he visits his mentor, Father Trevor, who gently instructs him on the power of forgiveness; it's something done from one's heart and does not require an admission of regret from the speaker. At first, Desmond cannot embrace this concept and shouts his own mean word back. Later, though, he sees the white boy being bullied. When the two boys encounter each other in town, the white boy shares candy with Desmond. Tutu, writing with Abrams in the third person, effectively shares his message with young readers, presenting it in humanitarian terms, not as a religious precept. Ford's full-page oil paintings are expressive, portraying anger and finally, triumph as Desmond metaphorically "embrace[s] the whole world in his outstretched arms." A thought-provoking lesson for young readers on the destructiveness of bullying and racism. (letter to readers from Tutu, author's note) (Picture book/memoir. 4-8)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780763652296
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Publication date: 12/3/2012
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 296,713
  • Age range: 6 - 9 Years
  • Product dimensions: 9.90 (w) x 11.50 (h) x 0.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Archbishop Desmond Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his lifelong struggle to bring equality, justice, and peace to his native South Africa. He continues to play an important role as a spokesperson worldwide. The co-author of God’s Dream, Archbishop Tutu lives in South Africa.

Douglas Carlton Abrams is the co-author with Archbishop Tutu of God’s Dream. His many books have been translated into more than two dozen languages. He lives inCalifornia.

A. G. Ford is the illustrator of the New York Times bestseller Barack by Jonah Winter and Michelle by Deborah Hopkinson. He also illustrated Goal! by Mina Javaherbin. He lives in Dallas, Texas.

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