cover image Desmond and the Very Mean Word

Desmond and the Very Mean Word

Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams, illus. by A.G. Ford. Candlewick, $15.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-7636-5229-6

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.)