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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Third Gift, written by Linda Sue Park and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Thomas Allen & Son, 2011. $19.99 ages 6 and up

"My father knows where the good trees are. I walk with him, the basket in one hand, the water gourd slung over my shoulder. We walk a long way. Some of the trees are close together. But most of them are far apart. One tree here. Another tree there. Yet another far beyond. They are not beautiful trees. Their branches are stunted, knotty, spiny."

In following up the previous post about a young boy who knows not the part he plays in the story of Jesus' birth, we meet another such boy in Linda Sue Park's appealing story entitled The Third Gift. In an author's note she shares her fascination with history and the part we play in it:

"As for the young narrator himself, I love thinking about the roles of ordinary people in history's great events. History is happening all around us every day, and stories can help remind us that we are as much a part of it as those whose names dominate the headlines."

This young boy is learning the family trade at his father's side:

"My father collects tears.
That is what they are called, the pearls of
sap that seep out of a tree when the bark
is cut. Maybe they are called tears because
it seems as if the tree is crying."

As they travel over long distances and gather the tears that his father then sells to spice merchants, we learn about a very different way of life. There is reverance and pride in the simplicity of it. The father is patient, kind and happy to be teaching his son an old trade. They travel quietly together across a beautifully designed Arabian landscape, doing their work and unsuspecting of the importance it holds for the Christmas story.

On one such trip, the boy gets his chance to try his hand at harvesting one of the tears...the largest they have seen (as big as a hen's egg) and it becomes the centerpiece for a special sale to three men who are looking for one more gift for a baby. They already have gold and frankincense. Myrrh seems a perfect accompaniement. The boy is happy to have played a role in the gifts that will be given:

"I watch the three men mount their camels.
I watch them leave the marketplace.
I watch as they ride into the desert.
And I wonder about the baby."

Linda Sue Park also wondered as a child, about myrrh. Since no one asked any questions about it, she assumed that everyone knew what it was...except her. She has since learned that many people had no idea. In her story, she makes it clear that it had many uses. Her use of rich, clear language is a gift to all who share her story.

It's hard for me to describe my admiration for Bagram Ibatoulline's artwork. I have mentioned before that books have been described as mirrors or windows. In this case, he creates a window into life as it was lived so long ago. Using acrylic-goucahe he gives texture and depth to his beautifully drawn images of a loving father, his proud and inquisitive son, the desert landscape and the bustle of the marketplace. I just want to them up so that you can ba amazed by each full page spread.

This is a book that I will long treasure.

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