The Third Gift (2011) by Linda Sue Park, Illustrations by Bagram Ibatouilline
Suggested age range: 7 and up
(Clarion Books, 32 pages)
Rating: 4/5 stars
The Book: A boy accompanies his father as he collects resin from tree bark, the “tears” that become the valuable essential oil of myrrh. This is the father’s craft, and the story highlights the bond between father and son as well as the transferring of a craft from one generation to another. You may recognize the style of Ibatouilline’s illustrations—he produced the pictures for Kate DiCamillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.
The text includes information related to how the essential oil of myrrh was used in the past, and based on the allusion to the event of Jesus’ birth at the end of the story, the reader can guess the time period and place of the story. The realistic illustrations are acrylic-gouache, and include beautiful details of the Middle Eastern landscape and clothing.
The father’s product is pursued by a spice merchant in the marketplace one day, and the boy and father discover three richly dressed men who have traveled far and are seeking a valuable gift for a baby. The men decide to purchase the large tear the boy recently acquired, and the story concludes with the boy gazing after the men as they ride off into the desert towards the baby.
Spirituality in The Third Gift: The significant spiritual and religious event of the birth of Jesus Chris is alluded to in the conclusion of the story. However, the Father/Son relationship is another area of spirituality in the text; this father/son bond is unique in that the Father is imparting knowledge about a skill to his son. There is a significant connection forged between them. At the same time, he is also giving him more responsibility; the father allows his son to share his “tear” with the three visitors who are seeking a “third gift” for this baby they will visit.
A spirituality of wonder and awe is subtly hinted at in the closing illustration and text. The boy does not know all the details of these three visitors or the nature of their future visit to the baby, but he senses (communicated by the both the picture and text) that this is significant. Perhaps the boy will never know to whom his gift was given. What the text does communicate is that even the very young can play an important role in globally significant events.
Exploring this Book with Readers: This is perfect for a read aloud, and introducing this book during the Christmas season would be brilliant, but this is also a book that would work anytime of the year. Discussion with young reader could focus on several areas: Crafts and abilities we have that can bring joy to others, Middle Eastern culture, the gaps and mystery in the story that are left open for the reader to fill.
The content related to the essential oils and spices is another brilliant road into the story. Essential oils as natural healthcare is discussed in the story—historically, myrrh was used for “headaches…stomachaches…to soothe rashes.” In our own time, essential oils can still be used for these ailments, and I was especially interested in this picturebook due to my recent introduction to essential oils. I have found they have amazing properties and can answer many health concern questions, including sleeplessness, anxiety, headaches, and allergies. How excited I was to discover this beautiful picturebook that highlights an essential oil, myrrh, and frames it within the background of an event over 2,000 years ago.
The Final Word: I would definitely recommended sharing this with both elementary classes and even middle school classes. The age of the students could determine the depth of analysis and discussion, but certainly, this book has something to offer every reader. Its allusion to the Biblical event of the birth of Christ would make it especially appropriate for religious classrooms. However, this book would appeal, I believe, to readers of all backgrounds.