On a mean street in a mean, broken city, a young girl tries to snatch an old woman's bag. But the frail old woman, holding on with the strength of heroes, says the thief can't have it without giving something in return: the promise. It is the beginning of a journey that will change the thieving girl's life--and a chance to change the world, for good.
One day she cornered an old lady with a heavy bag. The lady wouldn’t relinquish the bag until the girl promised to plant what was in the bag. She said what she had to in order to get the bag and ran off with it. When she opened it, she found it contained only acorns:
"I stared at them,
so green, so perfect,
and so many,
and I understood
I had made.
I held a forest in my arms,
and my heart was changed.”
The girl plants them everywhere, and they begin to grow:
"I pushed aside the mean and hard and ugly,
and I planted, planted, planted.”
Pretty soon the city was filled with little trees that enchanted people, and they began to plant trees and flowers and vegetables everywhere:
"Green spread through the city like a song,
breathing to the sky, drawing down the rain like a blessing.”
She travels to other cities and does the same thing, until one night, she too is fought by a thief for her bag of acorns, and she smiled and made the bargain, knowing it would change a heart.
Discussion: There is a lot that doesn’t quite make sense in this story. For example, big oaks do not spring up overnight from little acorns. Nor can trees and flowers, as nice as they are, necessarily change hearts. A small child might not even buy this story if presented as a fable or parable. But the illustrations by Laura Carlin are definitely notable. Using watercolor, pastel, and crayon, she shows how the world is transformed from drab and lifeless to vibrant glorious color.
Evaluation: The author has stated that she wanted to show kids who have had bad starts in life that change is possible, for both yourself and the world around you. It’s a nice story, although I’m not sure if it realistically conveys the author’s message, but the artwork is lovely and unique, and is sure to garner prizes.
This is a beautiful story meant to be read to elementary school students. Hopefully, it encourages them to pay it forward and try to bring light into the lives of others. The illustrations are gorgeous and they change as the story goes on.
Great choice for a read-aloud to elementary students as a way to teach that hope brings hope and bringing hope to others is always a good thing.