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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Tistou, the boy with green thumbs
by Maurice Druon
Age Range: 9-11
Eight-year-old Tistou is a beautiful child, living in a house more beautiful than most houses and with parents more beautiful than most parents. When Tistou is sent to school after being taught at home he finds that he is unable to stop falling asleep in the lessons. By the third day the school have had enough and he is sent home. Tistou’s father decides that he will continue his education by learning from real life, from direct observation and where better to start than in the garden!
With the gardener Mr Moustache, Tistou discovers he has a remarkable gift that he has green thumbs – everything he touches grows into beautiful plants. His next lesson is with the stern Mr Turnbull, manager of his father’s armament factory who takes Tistou to visit the town to learn about ‘order’.
Over the course of the next few days Tistou learns many new things as he visits the town prison, the slums and the hospital. Now Tistou has no time to sleep. He discovers the most extraordinary thing – that “flowers prevent evil things from happening”. However, it occurs to Tistou that “it is war that is the greatest and most horrible disorder that could happen in the world since everyone lost in it what they loved most”.
After all his visits magical things begin to happen in the little town of Mirepoil - the prison is transformed from a grim, soulless building to one teaming with colourful flowers and plants everywhere, a little girl discovers the will to live as she takes pleasure in the beauty of the plants that surround her hospital bed and the slums are no longer a place of despair. But Tistou's efforts are even more far reaching; in the desert where a war is being fought, the guns manufactured by Tistou's father sprout flowers not bullets.
Tistou by French author Maurice Druon was written in 1957 and considered in France to be a classic on a par with The Little Prince. The first English translation by Humphrey Hare was published in 1958. This edition is based on that original translation and updated by Françoise Jones and illustrated by Ray Hedger. The simple black and white pencil line drawings enhance this charming parable that deals with the darker side of human life, the insanity of war and mortality.
When Mr Moustache dies Tistou wants to know where he has gone and it is only at the end of the book that we discover who Tistou really is. As Ashley Ramsden says in his introduction “Tistou’s name deserves to be on the lips of anyone who cares about the future of our Earth”. Druon’s, classic should be read both by children and adults since it cannot fail to move you.