Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers on February 15, 2022
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When Leo opens his birthday presents, he receives an amazing gift: a pen! Inside it, Papa says, are many beautiful things. But how do you get them out? None of his friends can guess. Super-Zombo doesn’t get anywhere by blowing on it, and Coco-Tembo thinks it’s too tiny to hold anything important. Maybe Leo’s mama will know how to reveal all the wonders inside…
This warm, charming story is a perfect introduction to the joy of writing. Like Leo, young readers will discover how a simple utensil can express all the words in the world—even one’s own name.
The Gift is a sweet and simple book about a dad who gives his son the gift of artistic expression. Well, it’s simpler than that—it’s just a pen—but what that pen can do opens up worlds for young Leo. The first part of the story leaves Leo to discover what his dad meant by there being all sorts of beautiful things inside his pen. Dad promised to show him when he got back from the market, but Leo just can’t wait. He asks several others but they aren’t able to help. Coco-Tembo, the hen, thinks it is too small to have anything beautiful inside. Super-Zombo, the giraffe, believes it to be a flute.
Finally, Mama shows Leo how to use the pen. Working hand over hand, they write his name. L-E-O. Leo learns that the gift of words is in his pen and he can write whatever he wants. He can draw, too! Soon the whole world is coming out of his pen. I wondered what would happen when Papa came home, given that he had said he would help Leo when he returned? Some children’s books may have made this a morality tale about patience, how Leo should have waited, but Papa is thrilled that Leo has discovered the value of his gift.
The more I reflect on that, the more I appreciate it. Papa isn’t upset that Leo didn’t wait. He’s excited with Leo over Leo’s ability to express himself through art. Papa doesn’t lecture about impatience, he completely understands Leo’s hunger and drive to learn and discover. It’s such a pure and wholesome lesson.
Alain Serge Dzotap is a Cameroonian children’s author and poet. That background is reflected in the animals used to illustrate the book. Leo is a cheetah (leopard?…I’m not an animalologist). Coco-Tembo is a hen. Super-Zombo is a giraffe. Dzotap is well-known in Cameroon as a children’s author, and the original French language edition of The Gift (Le Cadeau) released in 2020. This is his first English language translation, but I’m hoping for more!
One of my favorite things about Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers is their commitment to sharing children’s books from other cultures and originally written in other languages. In Anglocentric society, we may not think much about books written in other languages, especially books for children. But books like this provide authors with a new platform and audience, and provide readers with the opportunity to engage in a cultural perspective and background they would not otherwise have. The Gift is a pure, wholesome, and utterly lovable read.