Tag Archives: olives

These Olive Trees: A Palestinian Family’s Story by Aya Ghanameh

These Olive Trees: A Palestinian Family’s Story by Aya Ghanameh

these olive

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.


The Olive Tree by Elsa Marston illustrated by Claire Ewart

The Olive Tree by Elsa Marston illustrated by Claire Ewart

olive tree


Set in Lebanon, this 32 page book for kindergarten to second graders uses the ever important olive tree as a point of contention between two neighbors. Muna’s family moved away during the conflict because they were not like the others in the village, and while they were gone, Sameer’s family cared for the olive tree on their neighbor’s property, and collected the olives that fell on their side of the wall. But now that the neighbors have returned, Sameer is not only disappointed that they don’t have a boy his age to play with, but also clashes with Muna when she says that he shouldn’t take their olives. By the end of the book, olive branches of peace will be referenced and hope hinted at in this brightly illustrated book with a lesson.


I like that why Muna’s family left is not abundantly clear, saying that “For many years the house next to Sameer’s had stood empty. . . that the family who lived there had gone away during the troubles because they were different from most of the people int he village.”  Lebanon is a diverse place and the illustrations seem to show both Mom’s wearing head scarves, the text does not detail if they are unlike each other because of religion, or culture, or some other reason, and I kind of like that it is left vague so that children learn in the end perhaps, it doesn’t matter.  


When the family moves back home, Sameer watches them and recalls the ways his mom prepares the best olives in Lebanon.  The neighbors are polite, but not friendly.  They don’t ever say much and they don’t return visits.  One day when the ripe olives have fallen on the ground, Sameer heads out with his basket to collect them.   Muna, who has never looked over at Sameer, watches him and tells him that they are her olives, and that the tree has been in her family for a hundred years.

The two bicker about who has rights to the olives on Sameer’s side of the wall and in anger, Sameer dumps his basket of olives on Muna’s side and walks off.  After that, no one on Sameer’s side collects the olives on the ground.  One night there is a storm and the olive tree and part of the stone wall are destroyed.  The adults gather to survey the damage, but walk off without saying anything.  The two children are left to decide what to do next about their beloved tree, and their relationship with one another.


I like that the resolution is subtle, but thought provoking and that the adults don’t seem to interfere too much.  I can’t imagine that they don’t have opinions about their neighbors and the olives, but the book stays on the children and the assumptions, stubbornness, and unsaid words that have created such a divide, and must ultimately be resolved as a result.


Sitti’s Olive Tree by Ndaa Hassan illustrated by Soumbal Qureshi

Sitti’s Olive Tree by Ndaa Hassan illustrated by Soumbal Qureshi

olive trees

This lovely 27 page book is a story infused with love, culture, and olive oil.  The hardbound, large thick pages are richly illustrated as the text, perfect for ages preschool to second grade, tell of the olive harvesting season in Palestine.  The story is framed between a young girl learning about the past from her grandma’s memories and enjoying the olive oil sent by her uncles from their homeland.  The story is warm and informative and does not discuss politics or conflict. There is a key hanging on a map of Palestine in the illustrations, but nothing in the text.


Young Reema watches her Sitti make hummus. When a drop of olive oil slips down the side of the bottle and Sitti wipes it up and rubs it in Reema’s hair.  Reema wants to know how olive oil, zeit zaytoun, can be used in such different ways. As Reema is reminded of how far the oil has traveled and recalls that her Sitti never buys olive oil at the store, the two settle in for Sitti to tell Reema some of her memories about the harvest on her ancestral land.


Olive harvesting season comes at the end of the year and the families gather to pick the olives and fill the buckets before climbing ladders and catch the falling olives on blankets.  The elders sort them, and at the end of the day they eat and drink tea and coffee and laugh and enjoy each other’s company.


They tell stories to pass on to the next generation just like Sitti is doing to Reema, because the olives keep the families together.  Sitti hopes one day Reema will go to Palestine and play among her family’s trees.

I wish there was a bit more detail about the hummus, it seems to imply that the garbanzo beans are whole and not smooshed or blended, also when it lists the other things Sitti’s grandparents would do with the olives, the list is olive oil, olive soap and olives for eating.  I would imagine there are more things to do with the olives, even perhaps detailing the way the olives for eating are pickled, or preserved, or prepared would have been nice.


There is a glossary of a few terms at the end.  There is nothing religious in the text, but many of the women wear hijab in the illustrations.

Overall this book is well done and serves an important point in showing a culture that is rich and full, aside from conflict and politics.  It is a sweet story between a grandmother and her granddaughter and shows how stories, traditions, and food help pass on culture and heritage.