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“Gold and Frankincense and Myrrh”

In a strange way, every day is a day of gift-giving for those who work with children and books. Such words, of course, should be no more than whispered; for who can endure to think that he or she has made a routine of what should be spontaneous?

But if we permit our thoughts to soar a bit — to take stock of what we are doing, we who are concerned with children’s books and with what they offer to children can see that we are constantly gathering and winnowing and garnering what has been written and what is being written for the delight of children and men. And in the process of garnering, we come to realize that something of each of the Magi’s gifts has become incorporated in the words and stories offered to all who love to read.

Gold — calling to mind Keats’ “realms of gold” — epitomizes the wealth of literature available from Gilgamesh and the poems of Homer through The Tailor of Gloucester and Charlotte’s Web. Frankincense suggests the immediacy of certain books, the very assault they make on certain kinds of readers — whether it be a book like Little Women or The Borrowers. Myrrh — a bitter spice, medicinal in property — reminds us of life’s more than occasional bitterness. Is it not to be tasted in Maia Wojciechowska’s A Single Light and in James Forman’s The Traitors?

We remember the gold and the frankincense and the myrrh humbly offered to a child by those who thought they had nothing better to give. To children we offer books and words, and their gifts of the imagination and the spirit. We hope that the books and the words will kindle a response and that they, too, will continue to live in the memory.

— Paul Heins

From the December 1968 issue of The Horn Book Magazine

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