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This day has nearly gotten away from me, so I will quickly slip in this review of our book for today. A very different story for me and for this holiday season. The look and feel of this one is not something I would have picked up if it hadn’t been for a friend’s recommendation. It is the unique story of a young boy whose father is a collector of tears, which are the pearls of sap from a tree, and how one very special tear becomes the very special third gift for a baby. An intriguing perspective on a piece of the Nativity from Linda Sue Park and Bagram Ibatoulline, here is The Third Gift, 2011.

The Third Gift cover

The focus of this story is on the boy helping and admiring his father’s work of finding the very best trees and getting the largest tears to come from them. It is a well-honed skill of his father and the boy is proud to watch and to help. He explains what the tears become once they are sold for large amounts to the spice merchants and how the very best ones are used for funerals.

On a specific day in the story, the boy and his father collect the largest tear they have seen yet. They sell it weeks later to a merchant and his customers of three men with fine clothes on a long journey. It is to become their third gift, a gift of myrrh.

The Third Gift inside spread

The boy is surprised to overhear that the myrrh is intended as a gift for a baby, an odd choice for a funeral tear. But he is proud of his collection and is left to only wonder what baby it must be.

The Third Gift

This is a surprisingly powerful book and truly unique for a Christmas story. The background information given and expanded on in the author’s notes in the back are so fascinating about a spice and a custom that I knew nothing about. It is something that I’m not sure I’ve even wondered about, except that I have heard that myrrh was always intended for funerals and was a unique sign from the wise men. Linda Sue Park is an excellent author who wove a very intriguing story out of something that could have been too detailed and too factual. I love the spare nature of her text, giving only the details and the questions that the boy carries.

Bagram Ibatoulline’s illustrations are not only perfect for the text, but are utterly captivating in their detail and composition. For a time period that can be banished to monochromatic earth tones and (boring) robes and tents and deserts; he makes the scenery stunning and intense. I did a double-take when I read the colophon information that states he painted the illustrations in acrylic-gouache. The details of the faces and spices and folds of the robes are so extensive I thought for sure there was some digital collage occurring.

I am so thankful for a striking picture book for this Christmas season that leave me standing alongside the boy stating, “And I wonder about the baby.”

Follow along our book adventure at 25 Days of Christmas in 2013.