The Newbery Medalist has created a deceptively simple story, seemingly only about the everyday interaction between father teaching and son learning, in a desert environment.Their livelihood comes from gathering sap from trees which can be sold in the market. The story unfolds in leisurely fashion, including descriptions of the trees, and processes the father uses to show his son how and when to gather the material they will sell later in the market.It is only near the end of this recounting when father and son approach the spice merchant, that the three potential customers are shown relaxing with bowls of tea under the tent.They are interested in purchasing, and finally it is revealed that they are looking for a third gift, as they already have gold and frankincense.So it is indeed the wise men of Biblical mythology who will go on their way with what they need.The young boy narrator says, “I frown a little.Myrrh is such a strange gift to give to a baby.” He says nothing, just pleased that his contribution will go with the three men as he remains, wondering about the baby.An extensive author’s note sets the story of the Magi in the context of the Biblical reference, of the popular hymn, and provides description of what the “tree tears” (the sap ) is and why it has been valued around the world.
In an elegantly oversized format of mostly double page spreads, which stretch to a full 11 ½ (h) and 17 ½ (w), the artist uses a carefully constrained palette which evokes the desert environment. There are sufficient specific details, such as the clothing styles, implements like the gathering basket, and social patterns including drinking tea before purchasing, to show a culture quite unlike our own. The sepia tones in the art enhance the realistic presentation with details to enhance the story but not distract the reader/viewer from the measured forward movement of the plot.
Author: Linda Sue Park
Illustrator: Bagram Ibatoulline
Publisher: Clarion, 2011