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Home > Children's Books > The Olive Tree

cover of The Olve Tree

Available Now

at your local bookseller or your favorite online book retailer.

The Olive Tree
by: Elsa Marston
illustrated by: Claire Ewart
Subject(s): Age(s) / Lexile:

Juvenile Picturebook/

5 & up / Lexile measure: 660L

Format: Size / page count:


8" × 10" / 32 pages

ISBN: Date available:


Available now




The house next door to Sameer’s had been empty for as long as he could remember. The family had gone away when the war began. But now they were back, and he was ready to have fun with his new playmate. Together they could climb the big olive tree that overlooked both their gardens, and eat the delicious olives it produced. The only problem was that Muna, the little girl next door, didn’t want to play and she didn’t want to share the olives. She said they belonged to her family alone — that is, until one fateful night when lightning struck the tree.

Poignantly told by award-winning author Elsa Marston and with beautiful paintings from award-winning illustrator Claire Ewart, The Olive Tree follows two children as they learn to share and work together by looking past their differences. It shows young readers that compassion and understanding lie at the heart of all friendships.

The original version of this story won a fiction contest sponsored by Highlights for Children in 1992, was published in the October 1993 issue of Highlights, and in 1994 received the Paul A. Witty Short Story Award from the International Reading Association. This is the first time it appears in picture book format, with permission from Highlights for Children.

Videos Related to the Book (hide/show)

The Book Trailer Video for
The Olive Tree

Watch the video below to get an idea of the story, and the look of the book.

Awards & Honors
  • Honorable Mention in the “Picture Book” category of the 2015 Middle East Book Awards
  • Silver Medal in the “Illustration – Graphic” category of the 2014 Midwest Book Awards
  • Award-Winning Finalist in the “Children's Picture Book: Hardcover Fiction” category of the 2015 USA “Best Book” Awards
  • Finalist in the category “Interior Design: 3 or more Color (Children’s/YA)” of the 2015 Benjamin Franklin Awards
  • Nominated for a Cybils Picture Book Award


  • Parents can download a 268KB file of a coloring page from this book. The full letter-size page features a bird curiously examining some leaves and olives that have fallen from the olive tree of the story. Click here for this file in jpg format in a new tab or window, which you can print out for your child's enjoyment, or right-click on the link for other options. Remember: it is best to save the file to your computer and then print it out, rather than printing it out from the web page display itself.

Reviews (hide/show)

“A stone wall divides two houses owned by families with children; a gnarled olive tree grows on Muna’s land, and the olives drop on Sameer’s land. Although Muna’s family, gone ‘during the troubles, because they were different from most of the people in the village,’ has returned home, they maintain a polite distance, disappointing Sameer’s hopes for a friend. The children engage only to disagree over who the olives belong to. After their fight, ‘the olives went on dropping in Sameer’s yard … but nobody ever gathered them.’ Ewart’s (One Cold Night) watercolor illustrations deftly employ color to signal the story’s emotional developments. For example, warm hues of gold and green permeate the opening pages; in a center spread, a billowing blue storm washes over the small green village, with jagged lightning striking and killing the olive tree. In the final pages, a dusky purple backdrop and broken golden boughs convey a somber yet promising mood. Marston (The Compassionate Warrior: Abd el-Kader of Algeria) subtly transforms the story’s sadness into hope as the children surprise each other with acts of quiet generosity. Ages 5–up.”
Publishers Weekly

“The high yield of an olive tree on one side of the fence—but with branches reaching over to the other—precipitates a neighborhood feud about who actually owns the precious fruit. Shades of brown, green, and orange evoke the Lebanese countryside in this story of community efforts and treating others as you would like to be treated—much the same as one child extends an olive branch as a peace offering to another at the conclusion of the finely wrought tale.”
ForeWord Reviews

“…Marston’s understated text aptly captures the children’s feelings and their uneasy relationship… [It is a] story that shows how perceived prejudice can be just as destructive as actual hatred. (Picture book. 5-8)”
Kirkus Reviews

“K-Gr 3– This story, set in the contemporary Middle East, is about two neighbors and the ancient olive tree that stands between them… The style of writing is simple, direct, and accessible. Large watercolor paintings vary in viewpoint from one family’s side of the wall to the other.…”
School Library Journal, from a review by Toby Rajput

“Sometimes a quiet story can achieve feats that rousing tales can’t. The Olive Tree, a simple yet subtle story set in contemporary Lebanon, offers no details or explanation of the 1975 Lebanese Civil War, but invites us to consider the lingering distrust among people and possible paths to reconciliation. . . .

“Ms. Ewart’s atmospheric, two-page spreads of naturalistic watercolor paintings flesh out the poignant story with realistic details. The mothers of both families wear the hijab; a goat, a donkey, and chickens populate the yards; and chairs have seats of woven bulrush. With its understated story of conflict resolution, The Olive Tree offers adults a valuable opportunity to discuss with children the importance of respect for all.”
New York Journal of Books (online), from a review by Janice Floyd Durante
“Award-winning author and artist team Elsa Marston and Claire Ewart present The Olive Tree, a heart-touching children's picturebook about the value of forgiveness and reconciliation . . . Can two children from different families and backgrounds become friends? . . . The treasure of hope is illuminated in the final pages of this gentle picturebook, highly recommended.”
Children’s Bookwatch (Midwest Book Review)
“…Claire Ewart provides warm illustrations to accompany this story — recommended for read-aloud or for those with good reading skills — of two very different children affected by social and political division. Amid the specter of disaster comes the promise of new hope and understanding and the settlement of long-held grievances as the olive tree gives up its final opportunity for lasting change. Parents will relish the warm story and involving tale of friendship and healing.”
Reviewer’s Bookwatch (Midwest Book Review)
Pages 20-11 from the book “Never Say a Mean Word Again”, written by Jacqueline Jules and illustrated by Durga Yael Bernhard

A sample of a page spread from The Olive Tree, written by Elsa Marston
and illustrated by Claire Ewart (using watercolors)

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