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‘What Is Given From Heart’ teaches lessons about life


Oh, how you love opening presents!

You love the surprise, first of all. What did you get? You won’t find out until you rip off the paper and just the sound of that is exciting. Maybe there’s a box next, or plastic to open, or there’s simply a gift for you to enjoy. Getting presents is awesome but in the new book “What is Given from the Heart” by Patricia C. McKissack and illustrated by April Harrison (2019, Schwartz & Wade Books), its doubly special when you have nothing to give in return.

Mama always seemed so sad.

James Otis did what he could, but it was “a rough few months.” Nearly a year ago, Daddy fell asleep one day and didn’t wake up; after that, the farm was repossessed and Mama had to move herself and James Otis to a tumbledown shack and there never seemed to be enough money. The final blow came when James Otis’s dog ran off.

Mama liked to point out that they had each other. They had God, and they had small holidays and such, but James Otis knew it had been a struggle.

Then one day near Valentine’s Day, he and Mama were in church when Reverend Dennis made a special announcement. As always, the church was giving to the needy that spring but Mrs. Temple and her seven-year-old daughter, Sarah, had been victims of a fire and they needed a special “love box.”

The Temples had lost everything, and on the way home that day, Mama said she wanted to help. She wanted to find something nice to give to the Temples but James Otis had no idea what that might be. Mama reminded him of Reverend Dennis’s words: “Remember, what is given from the heart touches the heart.”

And so James Otis began to think. His crayons were broken. Sarah probably wouldn’t appreciate an old toy truck. His whistle had spit all over it. His favorite old puzzle was missing two pieces. What would a little girl like?  Better question: how can you give anything when you have nothing yourself?

“What is Given from the Heart” is a book that seriously needs to come with its own choir, one that would softly sing, just when you get about halfway through reading it. Yes, this story is just that wonderful.

It’s okay if you don’t have access to tenors and sopranos, though. Your child will get the message all the same because author Patricia C. McKissack tells a tale that shows loud and clear how giving has its own rewards and riches. Even kids who turn into Gimme Monsters will see it – in part, because of McKissack’s quiet, loving text and in part, because of the collage-like illustrations by April Harrison. Rounding it off, the uplifting ending couldn’t be more heartwarming.

This is a book that’s perfect for soft-hearted kids ages 4-to-8, but materialistic older kids might need to hear it once or twice, too. For them, or any generous child, “What is Given from the Heart” could make a great present.