Reviewed by Anne Thompson
The Weed has a fable like quality and is a story that celebrates the power of nature and our connection with it. It contains a positive message of hope and would be excellent as a spark for discussion on its different themes.
Quentin Blake’s illustrations are so distinctive and recognisable in style that from the cover, through an examination of the endpapers to the story itself the reader feels a sense of recognition and familiarity. This feeling is heightened by the parallels with well known stories. We meet the Meadowsweet family at a time of despair; the world has grown hard and dry and life is difficult. The family are in a deep cleft in the ground with steep sides looming above them with, seemingly, no way of escape. However, prompted by the bird herself, the family release their pet mynah bird, Octavia, who flies to freedom and then, just like the dove in the story of Noah, she returns with a sign of life. The tiny seed she carries drops in to the ground and grows slowly at first and then rapidly skywards bursting into life and bearing thick leaves and luscious fruit. The Meadowsweets clamber up the plant eventually reaching the surface, daylight and a beautiful world of lush greenery.
There could be many interpretations of this story and each reader, bringing their own views and experience, may have a different understanding of what is intended by the storyline. That is this book’s strength, I think. Very young children may smile at the resemblance to Jack’s beanstalk, slightly older readers will recognise the importance of valuing and protecting our environment, teens and adults may wonder about the current world situation and the links between the natural world and our well being and mental health. The use of the term ‘weed’ is interesting in itself for rather than being a wild plant growing in the wrong place this one is exactly where it is needed. Perhaps another topic for discussion?
The Weed could be used in the classroom for a wide age range encouraging purposeful talk and cross curricular activities. It would be perfect for encouraging young children to grow “weeds” of their own too.