The Promise by written by Nicola Davies and magnificently illustrated by Laura Carlin is a modern day fable, of sorts. It reads like a harder edged, less whimsical version of Peter Brown's The Curious Garden that is powerful without being didactic or preachy.
The narrator tells us about growing up in a city that was "mean and hard and ugly. Its streets were dry as dust, cracked by heat and cold and never blessed with rain." This was a city where "nothing grew. Everything was broken. No one ever smiled." The narrator tells us that she lived by stealing from those who "had almost as little as I did."
Things change when she stops an old woman with a bag that is "fat and full on a dark street one night. The woman is stronger than she seems and puts up a struggle until she says, "If you promise to plant the, I'll let go." Without understanding, the girl takes the bag and flees.
What she finds inside the bag changes her life. Finding it is filled with acorns the girl says, "I understood the promise I had made. I held a forest in my arms, and my heart was changed." From that day on she "planted, planted, planted" and, eventually, the city and the people living in it begin to change. Carlin's illustrations mirror this beautifully and the bright splashes of color that creep into the artwork are emotionally moving.
By the time the acorns have grown to trees, the narrator is already "far away, planting in another sad and sorry city" where, one day, she finds herself in a lonely alley with a sack of acorns and a young thief ready to fight her for it. She smiles and makes the old bargain, knowing that her planting will go on.
The Promise is more than a book. Davies, a zoologist and conservationist has partnered with The World Land Trust to inspire people to plant trees in the real world. All the information can be fount at The Promise website where I learned that every time this book or any written by Nicola Davies is borrowed from a public library in the UK the Public Lending Right payment goes directly to The World Land Trust.
Nicola Davies is the author of an amazing body of children's books, including picture books, non-fiction books about animal behavior, concept books for toddlers, beautiful collections of poetry about the natural world and chapter books about starting a farm in the center of a city. I hope you will click through to my review of Escape from Silver Street Farm which includes links to all of her other books I have reviewed here!
Source: Review Copy