Desmond and the Very Mean Word by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams

Though I’ve been more quiet on here lately, we are still forging ahead with our Family Focus on authentic apologies and genuine forgiveness… But, life’s been a little crazy, so the focus and the family meetings have looked a little different. Case in point– last week, we had a family meeting over breakfast rather than dinner, because my husband’s work schedule has been unpredictable during this social distancing time, but he had some free time one morning! During that family meeting, we used Archbishop Demond Tutu’s book Desmond and the Very Mean Word (written with Douglas Carlton Abrams), based on a real event from Tutu’s childhood, to center our hearts and minds on forgiveness. We chose for April’s focus to be apologies and forgiveness way back in December, not knowing how different life would look in April than we anticipated. Man, am I glad we’re working on this, because so much time in such a close space leads to some real spats and moments from which we can recover!

Desmond and the Very Mean Word brings us into Desmond Tutu’s childhood in South Africa, to one particular event that led to deep and lasting change in Tutu’s life. One happy day, young Desmond was riding his new bike, excited to show it to Father Trevor, when some white boys shouted a mean word at him (Tutu and Abrams leave it to our imaginations to figure out what the word might have been). Though Father Trevor encourages forgiveness instead of anger or retaliation (“You will get them back, and then they will get you back, and soon our whole world will be filled with nothing but ‘getting back.'”), Desmond does indeed try to retaliate… Until he realizes something: “the mean word he had said left a bitter taste in his mouth.”

But the relationship between hurting others and hurting ourselves isn’t the only important lesson Father Trevor helps Desmond understand. Father Trevor also teaches Desmond that forgiveness can be given at any time, before even apologies have been made, because we all “have the power to forgive whenever [we] are ready.” I won’t tell you exactly how the story ends, but I will tell you it does give me chills every time I read it! We can’t all have Father Trevor in our lives, but we can learn from his invaluable lessons!

And A. G. Ford’s illustrations are so rich, both with color and emotion! Even my husband stopped to comment on one of the illustrations as he was reading. Ford used color  (or lack thereof) incredibly well to help us feel what Tutu might have been feeling in those moments.

Be sure to spend some time with both Tutu’s letter to the reader at the beginning, as well as his Author’s Note at the end. Both will leave you with a deeper understanding of Tutu’s life and experiences, his heart for forgiveness, and the amazing mentor he had in his real-life Father Trevor.

As a way to dig deeper, we made (you guessed it…) an anchor chart! On this anchor chart, we challenged ourselves to think about what forgiveness looks like, sounds like, and feels like. As we read Desmond and the Very Mean Word and talked about forgiveness, we added thoughts (both from our own hearts or inspired by the book) to the chart. As with all of our Family Focus trait charts, we’ve posted this on our refrigerator and will revisit it over the course of the month, either to remind us or to add new ideas.

If you liked this, be sure to check out the other books on our April Family Focus: Authentic Apologies and Genuine Forgiveness booklist.


All links for purchase are Amazon Affiliate links. Thank you for considering making a purchase through my links!

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