When I was young I lived in a city that was mean and hard and ugly … Nothing grew. Everything was broken. No one ever smiled.
The harshness of this environment is perfectly captured in illustrations that are monotone, bleak and cold. In this comfortless world, a young girl steals in order to survive. Then one day she tries to snatch the bag of an old lady, who only allows her to take it after she's made the girl promise to 'plant them'. The girl doesn't know what the old lady means, nor does she care, but she wants the bag so she promises.
When she opens the bag, instead of the anticipated money or food, she finds only acorns, 'so green, so perfect … I held a forest in my arms, and my heart was changed.' She begins to keep her promise, planting the acorns wherever she can: besides roads, on roundabouts, at traffic lights, in parks, behind factories, at bus stops. She plants and plants and plants, and slowly, ever so slowly, her city changes. Trees grow! People touch the leaves in wonder. They smile. They talk and laugh with each other — communities are born. And now they start planting. Trees, flowers, fruit and vegetables … everywhere! Green spreads through the city 'like a song'. And, in perfect harmony, colour spreads through the illustrations with bold reds and blues, yellows and oranges, greens and purples bringing corresponding life to the page.
The girl continues to keep her promise, moving on from city to city, always planting, until one night a thief steals her bag of acorns … but only after she's made him promise to 'plant them'.
This picture book is beautiful, both in its presentation and its message of hope. It emphasises how we are all inextricably linked to our environment and celebrates the power we have to transform our world.
Title: The Promise
Author: Nicola Davies
Illustrator: Laura Carlin
Publisher: Walker Books, $27.95 RRP
Publication Date: September 2013
For ages: 5+
Type: Picture Book