Title: The Forgiveness Garden
Author: Lauren Thompson
Illustrator: Christy Hale
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Audience: Age 4-6
Summary: Small villages on either side of a stream “had hated each other for a long, long time.” Anger, fear, and hate grew when a boy from one village hurled a large stone across the stream and hit a girl from the other village in the head. Only the girl’s brave decision to stop the retaliation and turn stones into a garden allowed a space for conversation and forgiveness to grow.
Literary elements at work in the story: The Forgiveness Garden features all the hallmarks of a folktale or a parable: the story is plot-driven and told by an omniscient narrator, and the main characters are rather two-dimensional, serving more as types than as fully-developed people. Adding to this sense of parable, the author notes in the front of the book that the Sanskrit names for the two villages mean “us” and “them.” In the same vein, the two main characters’ names mean “forgiveness” and “kindness.”
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? The houses depicted in the illustrations seem to be constructed of wood with corrugated tin roofs. Presumably, the villagers are poor, but the main point here is that both villages are poor; the houses on either side of the stream are exactly alike. The people are brown-skinned and may be Middle Eastern or South Asian, but again, the key is that the characters from both villages look alike.
Theological Conversation Partners: Throughout both Testaments God forgives human beings over and over again, and yet, forgiveness is one of the hardest tasks people face. It seems so much easier to carry grudges for generations than to face our enemy and offer pardon and new life. Even Jesus’ dear friend Peter tried to pin the Master down to a clear answer: “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?” Jesus replies (and one can imagine it is with a rueful grin on his face), “Not seven times, but seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22) Sama, the young girl in this story, could easily have retaliated with more rock throwing when she had a chance, but she realized that the future of her people was literally in her hands, and she set the rock down to begin a garden. This story offers much to discuss about human nature, about what we do when we are hurt, and about the power we have to do good. It might also be interesting to talk about the link between what happens in the new garden built by these two villages and the original garden from Genesis.
Faith Talk Questions:
- Why do you think that the villages of Vayam and Gamte hated one another?
- Why did Karune throw his rock in the first place?
- What did Sama see when she looked in the stream, and why was she disturbed by it?
- Look at the picture of the villagers’ faces reflected in the stream. What do their eyes tell you?
- Why did Sama decide not to hurt Karune when her villagers captured him?
- Sama started the garden wall. Why did others join in to help her?
- Why do you think it was hard for any of the villagers to step into the garden and talk about forgiveness? Tell about a time that you had to forgive someone.
This review was written by Union Presbyterian Seminary alumna Beth Lyon-Suhring.
The Forgiveness Garden by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.