Sunday, February 2, 2014

Reading: Cherry and Olive

Courtesy of 
From the moment I opened the first page of Cherry and Olive, I knew I was entering the world of a beautiful book.  I devoured each page with the same resplendency I have when I eat my morning bowl of chocolate-chip-cherry oatmeal, only more so with this deliciously aesthetic treat.  Calling Cherry and Olive a treat, however, makes it sound like a joyful frolic in the park, and the book is far from being cheerful. While it ends in an uplifting way, Cherry and Olive feels rather gothic for a children's book with dark illustrations and a young, sullen girl just yearning for a friend.

Cherry Sullivan is a lonely girl that lives with her father in an apartment in France.  She loves chocolate!  And she tries to stay quiet at school so that no one will tease the plump, little girl.  She sits by herself at recess reading, letting herself explore new worlds that are safer, more interesting, and more wonderful than the one in which she lives.   In her own world, readers are introduced to Angelo, one of Cherry's classmates.  He reminds Cherry of the heroes in the books that she reads, and he is always surrounded by a gaggle of giggling girls - save for Cherry, of course.  After school one day, Cherry is assisting her father with his job at the animal shelter when she meets a puppy that reminds her of herself - a little plump, wrinkly brown dog.  Cherry names the dog "Olive" and forms a friendship with him.  Her father, of course, reminds Cherry that Olive may be picked up by his owner, so she shouldn't get too attached.  Will Olive's owner come to claim him, and if he does, just who will it be?  

To say that I adore this story would be an understatement about my actual feelings towards Cherry and Olive. I am entranced by this book, by the beautifully illustrated pages with textured painting, by the use of cherry reds and chocolate browns and olive greens - three things essential to the story!  I'm captivated by the details shown in each page, from abandoned bicycles propped up against iron gates to fall leaves loitering on the sidewalk.  And being that I love a good scavenger hunt, I was positively tickled to find a doll version of Sally from Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas propped up on Cherry's bookshelf!  It is evident that Tim Burton has had an influence on the author's work indeed, and after I thought about it, a movie version of Cherry and Olive has great potential!  I was so intrigued by the artwork that I decided to research author and illustrator Benjamin Lacombe to see if he has written or illustrated other books!  Sure enough, he has, and they have been translated in many languages, including Swedish, German, Russian, Spanish, and others.  With my research, I learned that Lacombe has written a second book featuring Cherry titled "Cereza Guinda," meaning "Cherry Cherry" in Spanish.  However, these precious books are seemingly impossible to find, and if I do stumble upon one on Amazon, it is rather expensive!  Are most of his books out of print? I wonder.  Are they readily available in other countries, just not the U.S.?  Sure, his illustrations are much darker than the ones typically seen on the shelves of Barnes and Noble, but children should not be deprived of these beautiful pictures and so relatable, yet such uncommon, stories! 
I am captivated by the cherry reds,
chocolate browns, and olive greens
present in this book.
Photo Courtesy:

In Cherry and Olive, the author mentions that Cherry's mother just left.  Why did she leave? I'm not sure; readers can only assume, but many children are growing up with only one parent, and not many picture books touch on this issue unless they are solely focused on divorce itself. Cherry is also teased by her classmates and feels isolated from the world until she meets a four-legged friend and makes a special friend at the book's end.  How comforting for those children constantly being teased in their own realities.  I also appreciate how the author showcases a dog in an animal shelter, and not a perfect, cute, cuddly little thing, but a plump, wrinkly brown creature! As an advocate for animals, I believe that it is never too early for students to be aware of the importance of animal shelters and community service.  Just like Cherry helped her father at the animal shelter, older students can participate in service-learning by helping their own local animal shelters.  I realize that there might be safety concerns with actually going into a shelter, but collecting food, leashes, toys, and blankets for animal shelters is another way that classrooms can be empathetic and caring.  

Along with service-learning, students can be engaged in rich discussions about bullying and friendship.  With clear story elements, Cherry and Olive is a great book for students to summarize.  The characters in this book possess varied traits, providing an opportunity for students to analyze each character with character diagrams or compare and contrast the characters.  Grading each character using a "Character Report Card" is another activity that would correspond great with the use of Cherry and Olive in a classroom.  With a positive ending, students can extend the story to write about the events that happen after Cherry makes a new friend.  This book could easily be assimilated into a unit about friendship or, more specifically, a unit about dogs and the friendship that they provide.  

Because Cherry and Olive is not an easy book to find, I will handle my ex-library copy with loving care so that I can savor the illustrations and words inside for a long time. In the meantime, I hope that more of Benjamin Lacombe's work appears in my local library and bookstores not only for me but also for young readers.  If you would like to learn more about Mr. Lacombe's work, please check out his website. Perhaps you will be as mesmerized as I am! 

1 comment:

  1. This was a wonderful review! I am very interested in reading this book now. I know you said it is difficult to find though... hopefully I can find one. The illustrations sound beautiful and so does the story. Cherry reminds me a bit of myself when I was little for a few reasons so I am really interested. Also, in 2nd grade my students always need practice with identifying the story elements and comparing/contrasting characters. I will look into this book, thanks!