Elsa Marston, Author
Claire Ewart, Illustrator
Wisdom Tales, Fiction, Nov. 1, 2014
Suitable for Ages: 4-8
Themes: Olive Tree, Neighbors, Lebanon, Middle East, Sharing, Friendship, Peace, Multicultural
Opening: For many years the house next to Sameer’s had stood empty. “What a pity!” his mother often said. The family who lived there had gone away during the troubles, because they were different from most of the people in the village. But now, the long war was over, and they were coming back.
Synopsis: Sameer leans on an old stone wall that divides the property between two families. Above him an ancient olive tree grows on the other side of the wall, but the best olives fall on his family’s property. He eagerly watches the family move back into their home and hopes that they have a boy with whom he can play. But Muna doesn’t want to play with Sameer, or share her family’s olives. One night during a storm, lightning strikes the olive tree and it crashes to the ground. Even the stone wall is broken. Will the two children find a way to resolve their differences?
What I like about this book:
- Elsa Marston’s The Olive Tree is a richly textured and realistic story about two Lebanese children who struggle to get along after a war, learn to share, and find friendship through adversity.
- The narrative is simple and lyrical. There is tension between Sameer and Muna, who are from two different families with different backgrounds. When their beloved olive tree is struck by lightning, they work silently together to clear the broken branches from their yards. They move beyond their anger, reconcile and heal.
- The symbolism is appropriate with the broken stone wall, the toppled tree, and the olive branch (a peace-offering.)
- This book is a reminder that our actions toward peace and reconciliation are powerful and unifying. They do make an important difference in the lives of those around us.
- Children will gain a glimpse into a contemporary Lebanon and its culture. Marston was in Lebanon at the outbreak of the war and after it was over. She was moved to write this hopeful middle eastern story.
- This healing multicultural book belongs in school libraries as it will encourage many interesting discussions among students.
- Claire Ewart’s beautiful illustrations are warm and colorful watercolors that draw the reader into the story from the first page. Her artwork is expressive and supports the emotion and tension in the story.
Resources: Visit Elsa Marston’s website to learn more about The Olive Tree. She has included some background information about Lebanon, the culture, the civil war and discussion questions for the classroom. I especially like her role-playing suggestions.
Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.