Desmond and the Very Mean Word

Desmond9780763652296_p0_v1_s260x420Desmond and the Very Mean Word

Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams, Authors

A.G. Ford, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Biography, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 6-10

Themes:  Bullying, Racism, Compassion, South Africa, Archbishop Tutu

Opening“Desmond was very proud of his new bicycle. He was the only child in the whole township who had one, and he couldn’t wait to show it to Father Trevor.”

Jacket Synopsis: When Desmond takes his new bicycle out for a ride, his pride and joy turn to hurt and anger when some boys shout a very mean word at him. No matter what he tries, Desmond can’t stop thinking about what the boys said. With the wise advice of kindly Father Trevor, Desmond learns an important lesson about understanding his conflicted feelings and how to forgive.

Why I like this book:  This heartfelt story is based on a true-life story from Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s childhood in South Africa. Like many African children, Tutu is bullied and words of hatred shouted at him by other boys.  He is angry and after several incidents, he turns and shouts the meanest word he can think of. At first he is proud of himself, but later feels shame good over his actions. I really think it’s important for children to know how a Nobel Peace Prize winner comes to terms with issues that are still relevant today. Desmond finds that forgiveness is the only way to free himself from his anger. This is a very important step for the young Desmond — for all children. The author focuses on his feelings instead of sounding preachy. Ford’s stunning oil paintings powerfully depict Desmond’s early life in South Africa and capture the emotion of the characters.

Resources:  Archbishop Tutu has a forward about the story and a backpage of history about his relationship with Father Trevor. Tutu has spent his life bringing equality, justice, and peace to South Africa. He continues to be a leading spokesperson for peace and forgiveness. Candlewick Press has prepared a Teacher’s Guide for use with the book in the classroom.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

37 thoughts on “Desmond and the Very Mean Word

  1. I’m adding this one to my list! What a terrific book to spark conversation with children. Desmond isn’t a preachy, ‘just turn the other cheek’ character, but one that shows real pain and anger. I love that he walks children through his experience of how his own mean words made him feel, and how forgiving was what brought him peace. Forgiving is a verb- it’s an action that often takes a lot of effort, but it’s a gift that can bring us peace. Great book, Pat!


    • Thank you Lana for the lovely comments. You touched on the central theme of the book, learning about forgiveness. A great teaching moment for children. Holding onto to anger only hurts us, because the other person has moved on. So it is a gift to forgive and feel peace within.


    • I think bullying exists everywhere. And, it’s a great lesson in how Desmond handled the situation by reacting, then feeling bad about what he said. Many teachable moments in this story of this great man.


  2. Just the other day I was thinking to myself “Gee, I seem to be finding so many great titles from Candlewick Press!” With titles like Desmond and the Very Mean Word, Ladder to the Moon, and Journey, I’m going to keep my eye on their catalogs. Thanks for sharing this book. It will definitely land on our shelves and in people’s hands in our shop in San Mateo!


    • Candlewick specializes in children and there are so many great authors who publish under them. This book is important and similar to the books I’ve reviewed on Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Helen Keller. All with similar messages. Check out their website. You may want to scroll back through my blog, as there are some books I’ve reviewed I’m not sure you’ve seen that I know you’d like.


  3. Thanks for reviewing this book Pat. My son had been bullied last year, and even though the child is no longer at the school, it’s amazing how he still dwells upon it. Will look for this one in the library. It might be very helpful to him.


    • Yes, it was a great find. The book actually found me. I loved it right away! It reminds me of the great books about Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Helen Keller that I’ve reviewed this past year!


    • Laura, I’m glad you responded. I left you a note on Susanna’s blog about the post button missing from your blog, so I couldn’t comment.

      It is a great classroom book and I do hope you use it. Last year I reviewed a series of books called the Weird Series. If you click on bullying in my right sidebar, you can find the books. Each book focuses on the victim, the bystander and the bully. Another excellent series for the classroom.


  4. Everyone else noted the content but I just wanted to add that I haven’t seen this book yet but I’m drawn in by the richness of the oil portraits. While other illustration techniques may look more modern, there’s a lot to love about the oils.


  5. What a wonderful book with a lesson and some history behind it. It is all the more meaningful since it is about a public figure. Children need to read books like this.


  6. Hi Pat. This book sounds just wonderful. There is a huge percentage of children that get bullied in some way and harbor anger. It sounds like this story is perfect for those who are bullied and for those who do the bullying. You want to hope at some point that bullies will hear something that will make them reconsider their words.


    • I’m glad you enjoyed my selection. Not only are the oil paintings gorgeous, but the message is important. Even famous individuals have dealt with bullying. With the theme of learning to forgive, it’s also good for MLK Day.


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