The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry (Lisbeth Zwerger, illustrator)

Our Lisbeth Zwerger fan appreciation tour continues today with a book perfect for the Christmas season: The Gift of the Magi. For those of you not familar with the O. Henry story here is a teaser:

One dollar and eight-seven cents is all the money Della has in the world to buy her beloved husband a Christmas present. She has nothing to sell except her only treasure — her long, beautiful brown hair. Set in New York at the turn of the twentieth century, this classic piece of American literature tells the story of a young couple and the sacrifices each must make to buy the other a gift. Beautiful, delicate watercolors by award-winning illustrator Lisbeth Zwerger add new poignancy and charm to this simple tale about the rewards of unselfish love.

If for some odd reason you haven’t read this classic tale, you should. It really is poignant and charming.  A young couple struggling to make ends meat determined to give Christmas gifts worthy of the love they share end up giving “useless” gifts but are in O. Henry’s words “the wisest of all who give and receive gifts.”

And this edition is perfect.  The beauty and simplicity allows the story to shine.  But like so many of Zwerger’s work, I think it is much more a gorgeous coffee table book for adults than an example of children’s literature.

The legal pad size book (8 1/2 by 14)  has lots of white space, a stylized font and, of course, Zwerger’s illustrations.  And those detailed, yet delicate, illustrations capture the emotions of the characters as the story proceeds. Many reviews focused on the font and white space as making it hard to read. And I suppose this is true if you are attempting to read it out loud in a classroom setting or at home. But I really like the overall effect.

From Della throwing herself on the couch for a nice long cry, nervously looking in the mirror after her sacrifice, and feeling her now short hair as she prepares supper to her husband Jim coming up the stairs, the awkward exchange of gifts, and the couple sitting across the table talking, the illustrations provide beautiful snapshots as the story unfolds.

It is a timeless story, and one we would do well to remember this – and every – holiday season, and I don’t think there is a better way to enjoy it than in this wonderful package.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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