The Promise: speaking quietly to one reader at a time SEARCH NEWS

A tree filled with birds, one of Laura Carlin's illustrations from The Promise by Nicola Davies.

Nicola Davies is an author and an ambassador for World Land Trust (WLT). On a recent visit to Halesworth, she talked to us about the inspiration for her book The Promise, which is the subject of an exhibition at WLT gallery.

The central character in The Promise is a solitary child who finds meaning in life by planting trees. “I wanted to write about an urban environment, and about a child who has not had a good start in life. The greatest difficulty for a child is not having an adult in a supportive role.”

As the girl plants acorns all over the run down city, so gradually the urban landscape is transformed. “The effects of tree planting on the urban environment are known to be profound,” Nicola explains. “Without contact with nature, a person’s education, development and mental health are at risk, and where there are enough green spaces, mental health improves.”

If the plot line sounds familiar that’s because some of the inspiration for the book came from The Man Who Planted Trees. First published in 1953, Jean Giono’s allegorical story tells of a French peasant who plants trees across a barren valley in Provence. Encapsulating the spirit of the emerging environmental movement, The Man Who Planted Trees received international acclaim and inspired tree planting campaigns.

For Nicola The Promise is one of her most important books. The book was shortlisted for an award at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, and it has been well reviewed by critics.


Nicola and her colleagues at Walker Books considered many illustrators before finally seeing Laura’s portfolio. “I knew at once that Laura was the one for The Promise,” remembers Nicola.

“The Promise speaks very quietly to one reader at a time, the world changes one heart at a time, and any revolution must start from within.”
(Nicola Davies, author and WLT Ambassador)

Picture books engage all the levels of a person’s conscious and unconscious being. There are few words to distract the mind and, in the case of The Promise, Laura Carlin’s artwork powerfully illustrates the metamorphosis of landscape from monotone to colour, from brutal grey buildings to organic trees filled with light and life. Nicola’s narrative is subtle, layered with meaning and feeling, and so too are the illustrations.

“The meaning of The Promise is personal transformation, and the message is timely because we need to change,” she says. “It is always a mistake to underestimate your audience, particularly when they are young. Children experience strong and complex emotions, even if they can’t articulate them, so they understand the central message of The Promise. They are enthralled by it and they understand the emotional side of the story.”

Because its central theme is so important, Nicola hopes that the book will be a commercial success. “The Promise speaks very quietly to one reader at a time, the world changes one heart at a time, and any revolution must start from within.”

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More information

Laura Carlin’s original illustrations for The Promise are on display at WLT gallery in Halesworth until 25 April 2014.

View works in the exhibition »