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Issue 283
March/April 2014
Small is the New Big

Reviews

A Message of Hope
by
Illustration © 2013 Laura Carlin/The Promise www.walker.co.uk

Illustration © 2013 Laura Carlin/The Promise www.walker.co.uk

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A Message of Hope

Jackie Morris discovers it is never too late to change. The Promise by Nicola Davies & Laura Carlin. Walker, 2013. ISBN: 9781406337280

A veritable forest of children’s books are published every year, but this one really stood out for me. It begins with a monochrome world. An industrial landscape. A child walks along a road, running a stick along some bent and broken railings. Tall buildings tower above the small figure, who begins to tell her story.

As precise as a poem and as beautiful, the words add colour to the illustrations as “a gritty, yellow wind blew constantly, scratching around the buildings like a hungry dog”.

The Promise is the bravest picture book I have seen in years. Its heroine is a child who lives on the street and steals in order to live. A hard child with a harsh life, until the night she tries to steal a bag from a frail old woman down a dark street.

From the moment the child opens the bag the colours on the page begin to change. When she goes to sleep that night on a park bench, she rests her head on the bag, and she dreams. And we ask ourselves, will this child who steals from the weak and the old and the hungry keep the promise that she has made?

When I first came across this book I was astonished. It walks in territory where children’s books don’t usually go, and it gives a voice to those we do not usually see or hear in children’s books: the homeless child, the street child. The cityscapes – cold and brutal – set a stage for the life of the child. Nicola Davies’ words and Laura Carlin’s images sit together in such a way that each adds to the other. Everything about the design of the book, from the weight and texture of the paper to the colour of the type, the cover and the endpapers, makes it a special object.

The story has its roots in The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono, a French classic about a man who changed the world around him by planting trees all across the land. Giono’s book was at first mistakenly taken for ‘fact’ and led to an awareness of the importance of forests and woodland in the 1970s and 1980s.

Davies studied zoology at university and has a passion for words, the world and all its creatures, human, animal and plant, as well as an enthusiasm for life and for the relationship of humans with Nature. All her books bring the wild world closer to the child.

The Promise holds within its beautiful pages a message that makes it something to be treasured. It is a message of hope. A message that one person, acting alone, can make a difference. A message that no matter how far we have fallen it is not too late to change, one person at a time, one heart at a time.

This is not a children’s book. It’s just a book: one that belongs in every school, in every library, in every home. It is a book for people of any age – something perfect.

Jackie Morris is an author and illustrator. www.jackiemorris.co.uk

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