Reviews for Desmond and the Very Mean Word : A Story of Forgiveness

Booklist Reviews 2013 February #1
An actual event from the Nobel Peace Prize winner's childhood forms the heart of a story about the difficulties and rewards of forgiveness. Young Desmond proudly rides his new bike through the streets of the township when he encounters a group of aggressive boys who taunt him with a "very mean word." Desmond struggles with his own feelings of anger and retribution, but, after wise counsel from trusted mentor Father Trevor, finds his way to forgive. Writing again with Abrams (God's Dream, 2008), Tutu offers a clear telling that feels much like a children's homily, the earnest tone and clean language (the offending word is never mentioned) reflecting his own wholesome spirit. Ford's dynamic paintings, with well-defined outlines and dramatic light, match the clarity of the narrative. The images fill the large-trim spreads, capturing the immediacy of the conflict and the tranquility of the resolution. An author's note offers more information about the event, and the mentor, that inspired the story. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2013 Fall
Archbishop Tutu uses a childhood incident to reveal the importance of learning to forgive others who behave with hatred while also paying tribute to his mentor, a young white priest who became an anti-apartheid activist. While staying away from politics, this realistic story of name-calling provides appropriate insights into children's feelings; Ford's oil paintings zoom in on the boys' emotional expressions.

Kirkus Reviews 2012 December #1
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) Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 November #2

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.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2013 April

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

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