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Desmond and the Very Mean Word


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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 worldwide as a spokesperson for peace and forgiveness. This is his third children's book; his previous titles include God's Dream (9781406323375). The Archbishop lives in South Africa with his wife, Leah; they have four children.Douglas Carlton Abrams, co-author, has written many books, including God's Dream (9781406323375), which have been translated into more than two dozen languages. He lives in California with his wife and their three children.A. G. Ford is the illustrator of Goal! by Mina Javaherbin (9781406323375), as well as the New York Times bestseller Barack by Jonah Winter and Michelle by Deborah Hopkinson. He lives in The Colony, Texas.


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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

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 (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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