Title: Desmond and the Very Mean Word
Author: Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams
Illustrator: A.G. Ford
Publisher and Year: Candlewick Press, 2012
Number of pages: 32
Tags/Themes: Culture, Diversity, Emotion, Fiction Picture Book, 4-5, Evan White
Genre: Africa; Children’s; Cultural; Picture Books
Descriptive Annotation: Desmond is a young boy in a village in Africa who received a new bike. He was very proud and wanted to show it to Father Trevor at his church. While riding his bike he came across a few boys who called him “a very mean word.” The mean word bothered Desmond and he couldn’t get it off his mind. Father Trevor taught Desmond how one way to help heal the pain is to forgive the one who caused the pain. One day Desmond finds the boy in a shop and says he forgives him. Desmond felt relieved and stronger afterwards. Later the boy gave him a piece of candy and Desmond thought how people can change if you forgive them. The author’s note explains how the story has some truth to it and explains who Father Trevor was. Although the mean word is never said it can be implied to be a racial slur. The students may need some inferring skills or be used to practice inferring before reading this book to fully understand why Desmond is upset and the history of why racial slurs are as damaging as they are .
Classroom Application: This text meets Social and Emotional Learning Standards for using resources for emotional help and establishing positive relationships. Desmond identified and used external resources for his emotional stress. Father Trevor was able to guide Desmond on how to cope with his emotions, like how students need practice asking for help when in emotional strife. Desmond was also able to identify his emotions and used a coping mechanism, that of forgiving others. This teaches the students not to hold onto anger or grudges and moving on can be part of the healing process for emotional anger. This book can be used to teach students forgiveness is a key to the healing process.
Linguistic and Cultural Diversity Analysis: This book represents how black people persevere from racial slurs from a young age. Desmond lives in Southern Africa where lighter skinned people have social privilege. Kids grow up hearing racial slurs. “The boys scattered out of the way, but the tallest, a red-haired boy, spat out a very mean word. The other boys laughed and shouted the mean word again and again. Desmond pedaled away as fast as he could. His heart pounded, and his chest ached” (7). From this ache, Desmond went to Father Trevor. The church is very prevalent in the African/black culture, since that is an institution they can let their culture shine without other intuitions breaching in. The church is sanctuary and a place of leadership. “Father Trevor said very softly, “Let me tell you a secret, Desmond. When you forgive someone, you free yourself from what they have said or done. Its like magic”” (22). Father Trevor is the strong leader that his Desmond and his community relies on. I might introduce this book by discussing who the students could go to for emotional help, creating a list on the board for everyone to see. After the book, the students can update their list, to see of the story sparked other people they may not have thought about.