"The Gift-Giving" by Joan Aiken
“Nobody knows. It is Grandmother’s gift. She alone can do it.”
“The Gift-Giving” is a meld of suspense, mystery, and magic that combines the sensitivity of “The Gift of the Magi” and the fantasy of The Magic Flute of Mozart to create a short story that is transcultural and universally applicable anywhere in the world. It does not matter that the behavior of the four uncles is erratic and strange by contemporary standards. The emotive tenderness of the family relationship is only heightened by the magical power of the flute and the bond between the grandmother and her most beloved son whose absence changes not only the family but the community as well during the height of the most sacred celebration period of the year.
The unusual names (by English standards) of both the uncles and the children as well as the places involved imply that the characters and setting range from concrete, recognizable locales to out-of-this-world, highly imaginable creations. For a blind person, Grandmother’s gift is incredible but metaphorically transferable with innumerable possibilities to evoke the same ultimate joy that was expressed even in light of her personal tragic loss.
For any youth who have felt the absence of parents or the solidity of the extended family, this story is a moving testimony of love and devotion of people entrenched in traditional patterns of behavior based on cultural conventions. Its universality allows for extensive interrogation about customs, beliefs, and the very credibility of Grandmother’s gift. It stresses the importance of family unity especially in the face of tragedy as well as perseverance to attain desirable goals that are threatened by adversity even when success is more than in doubt.
Teaching strategies may include questioning the values of family traditions when those very mores threaten the coexistence of the members. Lessons may suggest variable possibilities for other locations, countries, terrain, occupations, and celebratory dates. The presents at the gift-giving could be relegated to another time, another age, or to any other person without sacrificing the essence of the story.
Open dialogue about feelings can feed off the multiple parallel situations that can be created from open-ended questions derived from reader responses generated from individuals. Interpretations may be as varied as the imagination will allow. The story itself is transcribable into simpler forms for pleasant bedtime reading even for children who could appreciate the magical qualities of stories that could apply to them and their experiences and feelings.