This stunningly illustrated OWN voice Palestinian book for early elementary kids is an important story and I love that it is coming out to the world, but I do have some issues with the literary aspects and target demographic. The story bounces around from being factual about the brining and curing process of turning the bitter olives into numerous things, to Oraib’s present life in the refugee camp, to memories of the family’s life in Al Tira. When war once again drives the family from their home in the Balata refugee camp, Oraib, plants seeds and vows to return one day to harvest the fruit. The language at times is very mature and complicated for ages 5-8, I felt uncomfortable with the family moving being attributed to war and not occupation, and at one point it clearly articulates there are many olive trees located outside the camp and that they are leaving the seeds that would be later planted, so why is the climax her asking the earth permission to plant one more and for the sky to water and care for it until she can return? The backmatter allows the book to be used to spread awareness about Palestine and the process of harvesting olives, but the illustrations will appeal to younger readers, and the concepts contained seem more geared for slightly older ones. There is nothing religious in the book, there is depiction of the Dome of the Rock in an illustration and I believe the author/illustrator identify as Muslim.
The writing style of the book is fairly surface level with concepts not fleshed out to allow difficult concepts to reach younger readers. When describing the taste of the fresh olives, Oraib wonders if long ago people were, “pleasantly surprised by its acidity.” No insight into what that acidity tastes like, or bitterness, or what curing and brining means. Often the paragraphs seem long winded and repetitive, adding very little to advance the story.
There is little lyricism in the text, and the first time some tries to peek out, the metaphor is quickly abandoned, and it is notable that it doesn’t return. The occasional enjoying of the bitter fresh olives is juxtaposed with the surprising joy occasionally found in the camp, it seems that with the uprooting of the family once again at the end, this thread would have been a natural inclusion to reinforce the patience for something better to occur.
The dramatization of asking the earth and sky when planting a seed upon their departure, didn’t make much sense to me. It is noted there are olive trees already there, the illustrations show the ground littered with seeds that were to be planted had they stayed, so why not have the little girl pocket some of the seeds to take with her wherever they go. That is after all what the mother is doing at the beginning. Why not have the little girl invest in the cause herself and share in that ownership that they will always endure and prosper. The personification of the earth, sky and rain also doesn’t seem to fit the flow of the story, so much is internal observation and reflection of the main character, that this seems like an attempt to bring it back to a child’s level that instead just reads disjointed.
I might have missed something as I am not Palestinian, but the book to look at is incredibly beautiful, I just don’t think it will be read and remembered by young children. One of my first thoughts when reading it was that it was an early draft, but it is to be published soon and this review is based on the most recent version sent to me. I also wondered in the back of my mind if the book was allowed to be used to check a box, and wasn’t given the editing and polishing that it deserved on purpose. It depresses me to even think that, and I guess I’ll never know, but I would love to hear your thoughts, and I do hope you will request your local libraires to shelve the book as a show of support to authentic Palestinian voices.