Dec 14, 2011

The Third Gift

The Third Gift by Linda Sue Park
Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
Published by Clarion Books

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.
     In a barren and harsh looking landscape, a young boy and his father walked together searching for the perfect trees. The father is working, collecting the sap and teaching his son how to do it.  Both of them walk side by side, diligently looking at each tree, touching them, finding the perfect spot on the bark to cut an "x" and wait for the sap, the tear, to seep out, and solidify just enough to be solid on the outside and tender in the middle.     
     They sell the tears to spice merchants at the marketplace. The tears are used as medicine, to flavor wine, and as embalming oils. "When you smell tears at a funeral, you know that someone truly beloved has died."
     They have collected the largest tear yet. Their faces filled with joy. As they approach the marketplace, the spice merchant awaits for them with a special group of clients. They speak a foreign language. They are shopping for a special gift. "We have a gift of gold, and a gift of frankincense." They have found the third gift.
     The Third Gift is a truly special book. The illustrations by Ibatoulline are breathtaking, each a work of art.  Sue Park has paced the story beautifully, its quite sensibility and reverence coming through.  It's a surprising development in a story we thought we knew.  Sue Park explains in her author's note the origin of the story and its historical context. Like her, I too wondered when I was younger what myrrh was, but felt uncomfortable asking. I just wished I had had the pleasure of reading this book then. Beautiful and quite read aloud.

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