Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Fourth Wise Man: A Picture Book Study

UPDATE:  Thank you, Cynthia for leaving a comment!  It seems The Fourth Wise Man has been republished as The Greatest Gift, which is still published, available on discount for Amazon, and ready to be added to a home collection. :)  (Cynthia, if I knew what your blog was, I would link to it here, but it did not show up in your Blogger profile.  Sorry!)

Nearly three weeks ago, while Luke, Nina and Jack played in the children’s area of a small library in a nearby town, I spied The Fourth Wise Man, a picture book based on a story by Henry Van Dyke, as retold by Susan Summers and illustrated by Jackie Morris.  Wowed by its breathtaking watercolor illustrations, I decided to check it out.  I figured it would make a beautiful addition to our picture book basket between Christmas Day and Epiphany.

Yesterday, I introduced The Fourth Wise Man to the children, and, today, I would like to share the book with you, along with a brainstorm of ideas I have created for loving and learning with this book for years to come.

Retold by Susan Summers
Illustrated by Jackie Morris

This book, published in 1998, is a beautifully illustrated story of one man’s lifelong search for virtue as he searches for the King of Kings, Jesus.  Told with heartwarming examples of love and service, and illustrated with stunning watercolors, the book is one I would love to have in my permanent home collection.

The Story

In this book, a wise king named Artaban and his three companions observe a new star which shines more brightly than any they have ever seen before.  They know it signifies the birth of a great teacher who is to be born among the Jews, so they decide to gather their supplies before meeting again to follow the star to the newborn child.

On Artaban’s way to rendezvous with his companions, he comes upon a very sick man.  Instead of driving on to his destination, Artaban decides to nurse the man back to health, and, thus, misses joining his companions in their journey to go pay homage to the newborn child.

Undeterred, Artaban decides to continue on alone.  However, his personal journey takes longer than he ever imagined it would.  In fact, it takes him decades.

Along Artaban’s way, he comes upon many who are sick, poor, or otherwise in need of help.  To them, he offers his time, love and help.  To some, he also gives the gifts he had originally intended to present the child born in Bethlehem.

By the end of Artaban’s journey, he finally finds his King.

Caution:  Some may not expect a “Christmastime” book to mention the crucifixion or to contain an image of the cross on the hill.  This one does, albeit with taste and without too many details.  At different points, the text also speaks of murder, death and sickness.  If you have young children, or older ones who are particularly sensitive to such topics, you may want to preview the book before reading it together.

The Illustrations

Jackie Morris used a warm, inviting palette of watercolors to illustrate The Fourth Wise Man.  The large, detailed illustrations include panoramic vistas as well as tender close ups of everyday life which transport readers back to the time of Jesus.  The inside covers of the book also include watercolor maps, painted to scale, of where Artaban (and, Jesus) lived.

Because the illustrations in The Fourth Wise Man are so captivating, even young children, can be captured by the book.  They certainly engaged my two year old as the length and language of the book, in addition to its illustrations, kept my older children and I turning its pages.

Faith Connections

The Fourth Wise Man is an inspired piece of fiction that carries readers from the days prior to Jesus’ birth right up through the Crucifixion, mentioning both of these fundamental points in faith history, while also exemplifying the idea that “When I was hungry, you gave me food.  When I was naked, you clothed me.  When I was in distress, you comforted me.  As often as you did these for the least of my children, you did them for me.”.

The book’s main character, Artaban, continually grows in virtue, doing deeds of love, as he searches for the King.  Thus, the book contains strong Biblical, Catechism and Character connections.

Curriculum and Activity Prompts

Academic and Early Learning Themes which can be connected to the book are:
  • Astronomy:  Can you see any stars that seem brighter than others?  What are the different constellations?
  • Geography and History: Who was Augustus Caesar? How big was the Roman Empire?   Where is Persia?  Where is Babylon? What was the Temple of the Seven Spheres like? What is the faith of Zoroaster?  Where is Bethelehem?  What is a plain?  What is a desert? How about dunes?  A ledge?
  • Dramatic Play:  What are your favorite parts of Artaban’s journey?  Act them out.  How might you look and feel if you were sick, scared, poor or otherwise like one of the people Artaban helped?  How would you feel after meeting Artaban? 
  • Field Trips:  Is there somewhere we could go to serve and love as Artaban did?   
  • Language Arts:  What might Artaban’s father might have said when he gave Artaban his blessing?  Narrate it or write id down.  Are there vocabulary words in the story that are new to you?  What do you think they mean?  What were the key events of the story?  In what order did they occur?Practical Life:  How might you offer gifts of time, talent and treasure to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, heal the sick and otherwise do good?
  • Health and Wellness:  Artaban used healing herbs and water to help the sick man.  What traditional medicines are still used today?
  • Character Studies:  What virtues did Artaban display?
  • Art:  What type of art supplies do you think Jackie Morris use in creating the illustrations for the book?  Did he use a mostly warm palette or a mostly cool one?  How much detail did he include in each illustration?  Might you model a piece of artwork after some aspect of the artwork within the book?

Sensory Ideas
  • Proprioception:  As Artaban’s friends did for him, leave notes and clues for others by piling cairns of bricks or rocks.  Make a scavenger hunt of it. 
  • Tactile:  Artaban carried a sapphire, a ruby and a pearl to gift the newborn child in Bethlehem with.  Find pretend jewels like these in a sensory bin filled with other materials, such as dessert sand colored rice. 
  • Tactile/Visual:  The emproror of Persia was said to have lived in palace that “glittered above the city like a jewel”.  Using a variety of art supplies, could you create an illustration or model of what the palace might have looked like? 
  • Gustatory: Mix different edible herbs with water and taste the teas, imagining what the potion that Artaban gave to the sick man might have tasted like. 
  • Proprioception/Vestibular:  Play a verb game using some of the colorful action phrases from the story, such as “swung into the saddle”, “trotted”, “stood stock-still”, “leaned down”, “fetched water”, “raised his trembling hand”, “pressed on”, “bare feet shuffled”, “fled in terror”, and “bent over him”.

Other Times of Year the Story Could Be Shared
  • when talking about legends 
  • when discussing how fiction is inspired from fact
  • when doing comparative literature studies
  • when studying virtues
  • when discussing quests and journeys
  • at Easter time
  • when discussing charity

Note:  If you would like to see more brainstorms for picture book study ideas like this one on the blog, please be sure to leave a comment to let me know.  I have a number of them in mind, but they take quite a while for me to write out and share.  I am more than happy to do so if others benefit from them, but do not want to spend my time or yours unwisely if sharing such ideas is not helpful.

Also, of Note:  Based on the “new” price of The Fourth Wise Man at Amazon, I would say that it is out of print and, therefore, rare.  It should not be, in my opinion.  It’s such a heart-warming story, with such enchanting artwork, that I am sure it would sell, sell, sell if publishers decided to reprint it.  I wish they would!  (Or, I wish I had an extra $30 right now to scoop up one of the used copies at Amazon, because I would be so pleased to make this book a permanent part of our home collection.) If, like us, you cannot purchase the book right now, it’s definitely worth a library loan, as well as for keeping a keen eye out at second-hand sales.

What picture books have you and your children enjoyed lately?


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1 comment:

Cynthia said...

I think they have republished it under a new name. (they both showed up as recommended books and I noticed that the illustrations were identical...)


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