Desmond and the Very Mean Word

Desmond and the Very Mean Word

I did not love the illustrations in Desmond and the Very Mean Word, and since we do not review books we do not like, at first I was planning to pass on this one. (There are some attractive landscapes and beautiful purples throughout.) But the text worked, and on rereading it I found myself wrangling with the basic conundrum it introduced: How to reconcile oneself to injustice.

Young Desmond (based on Archbishop Desmond Tutu) is thrilled to be showing off his new bike, only to be slapped down by the insult of a white boy who calls him a “very mean word,” which is, appropriately, never revealed. The situation parallels the experience of the narrator in Countee Cullen’s 1925 poem “Incident.” Desmond wants revenge, and gets the opportunity to repay the boy who has insulted him. As with any ethical person, he is bewildered to learn that revenge is futile. To quote Dr. King, violence “creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers,and Desmond’s mentor, Father Trevor, tries to lead him away from that end. With his compassion and intellect appealed to, Desmond attempts to be the bigger man, forgiving his attacker, and with a surprising result. The ending is a bit conveniently buttoned up, but the themes are given serious exploration, and the prose all the way through is sweetly straightforward.

Desmond and the Very Mean Word from Candlewick Press has 32 pages, and is intended for first through fourth grade readers.


1 comment for “Desmond and the Very Mean Word

  1. February 24, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    Now you make me curious about the illustration.

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