Right now we are into the Christian season of Lent, and during this time, I often look for children’s books with spiritual content to supplement our usual bedtime reading fare. On one of my favorite spirituality websites, Spirituality & Practice, I read a review of The Gift by the British poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy (illustrated by Rob Ryan, Barefoot Books, 2010) and was intrigued and so, got a copy of the book.
The Gift is a very simple story of a young girl’s journey through life. Beautifully illustrated with the paper-cut art of Rob Ryan (I’m quite partial to this art form as my uncle does this kind of art — kiri-e — in Japan), the story follows a young girl into the woods one day in early summer. There, while making a buttercup necklace, she has a mystical encounter with an old woman who offers the girl her deepest desire — the wish to be buried in this very spot of her reverie in the woods — in exchange for the necklace. Thereafter, the girl goes on living her life, fulfilling all her life’s desires, until she becomes an old woman herself, and recalls her encounter of the faraway past. Of course, now the girl has become that old woman and the story comes full circle. Throughout the girl’s life, the spot in the woods where she has had her encounter remains sacred to her. She plants seeds there and takes her children and grandchildren there; they leave small tokens of their visit like stones or pebbles there as she had done when she was a child. In a way, this girl has been preparing for her death long before it arrives because she knows and quietly celebrates the fact that she will be buried in this deeply local place for her. This spot in the woods is her soul-home, and she will return there when she dies.
The Gift is a deceptively simple tale and yet it is one of those books worth re-reading to children to make them think about life’s small mysteries from the perspective of a lifetime. A contemplative book with beautiful artwork, The Gift is a good read for Lent.