A simple yet powerful picture book for 2-5 year olds on the joy of caring for our environment
Told in the style of a fable, The Promise is about a young girl who must steal food and money to survive in the ‘mean and hard and ugly’ city – a grey and dreary environment, devoid of a single tree, flower or blade of grass.
One evening, she wrestles with a frail old woman for her handbag. The elderly lady relinquishes the bag on the condition the young girl plants what lies within. And so she does, planting acorn seeds all over the city.
Eventually, the seeds begin to grow, and the ugly, dark city is transformed into a green oasis and the people are transformed with happiness.
Then the little girl travels with her seeds to another city, and another, and another, until her bag of seeds is stolen from her by another young thief, who makes the same promise.
As soon as I saw the cover of this picture book, I knew it would be special.
The artwork was immediately recognisable as being the work of the wonderful Laura Carlin, whose book A World of Their Own I have reviewed previously. Her illustrations (which I suspect are a mix of pencil and water colour) are artworks in themselves, and the imagery in The Promise is no exception.
But the beauty of this book is that the poignant illustrations are matched by extremely powerful prose. Too often, I think writers shy away from using strong language in children’s books. Not Nicola Davies.
‘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 people had grown as mean and hard and ugly as their city, and I was mean and hard and ugly too…. My heart was as shrivelled as the dead trees in the park.’
In these dark, early pages of the book, Carlin retains a sombre palette of blacks and greys. But as the story progresses, and the city starts springing to life with green, the colour palette transforms with greens and reds and oranges. In short, there is wonderful synergy in this book between prose and illustration.
Ultimately, the message of this fable is simple – caring for nature makes us happy. But there are subtler messages too – that looking after our environment is everyone’s responsibility and it’s a responsibility that passes on from generation to generation.
So much of what we read and hear about the environment is thoroughly depressing – but this simple tale should inspire hope. In everyone.
Hardcover: 48 pages
Publisher: Walker Books Ltd (September 5, 2013)
To preview the book, or to purchase, visit Walker Books UK