Yolen, Jane. The Girl Who Cried Flowers, and Other Tales. Crowell, 1974.

Ethnic Origin: American (by Jane Yolen), takes place in ancient Greece

Running Time: 8 minutes

Power Center(s): (Why did you choose this?)

In this story, there are a number of "power centers." The first one comes when Olivia first cries after having been forbidden to do so by her husband, Panos. She cannot help it, it is in her nature, and in so doing, she begins to deceive him on a daily basis. This is not at all what she wants to do, but she cannot change her nature – crying when she is sad. And, it makes the villagers happy, for she cries flowers for them. But, in so doing, she is giving the villagers what they want, and disobeying her husband, who is made sad to see her sad. The second power center comes when Olivia flees the livid Panos, crying "How can I give all of you what you want?" and is transformed into the flower tree. In this transformation, she is able to give both her husband and the villagers what they want. Panos, wants his wife not to be sad, the villagers want flowers. The tree bears flowers year round, and Panos does not have to see Olivia made sad. Finally, I think it is a very powerful moment when Panos realizes that he has asked Olivia to deny the very core of herself – to give the villagers that which makes them happy. In his desire to make her something other than "the girl who cried flowers" he has hurt Olivia, the villagers, and ultimately himself, with his furious insistence that she be someone other than "the girl who cried flowers."              

Characters: Olivia, Panos and the villagers

Scenes: Ancient Greece

Olive tree where Olivia was found.

The village where she grew up.

Panos’ and Olivia’s cottage.

Flowering olive tree & hut where Panos lived out his days.


Synopsis: In ancient Greece, a shepherd finds a beautiful young baby, a girl who cries flowers. At first the villagers think she’s strange, but come to love her beauty and gentle, giving ways. The flowers are precious to the villagers, and people come from near and far to beg garlands, bouquets and funeral wreaths. Olivia loved making people happy. One day, a young man, Panos, comes to get a garland for his sweetheart, and falls immediately in love with Olivia. He tells her funny stories, and makes her laugh. He wants only her, and they marry, but he forbids her to cry, for seeing her sad, makes him sad. One day, when he is out working the fields, an old woman comes to the door, and tells Olivia that her granddaughter was to be married in the morning, but had no flowers to carry. It makes Olivia sad, so she begins to cry flowers for the old woman. Soon, all the villagers are stopping in with tales of woe; Olivia is crying the whole time Panos is out in the fields. One day, he comes home unexpectedly and catches her. He is so furious he cannot even speak. Olivia, fearful of saying the wrong thing, flees. After a day, Panos tries to find her, and can only find a small flower hut at the edge of the village. As he opens the rose door, he cuts his finger, and his blood drops to the ground, and an olive tree begins to grow, the trunk of which has the figure of a woman. Panos builds a hut by this strange tree that bears flowers and olives year round, until he dies. The tree continued to grow after his death, but never had another blossom, and the olives were as bitter and salty as tears.

Rhymes/Special Phrases/ "Flavor": None

Why is this story appropriate for the audience?

According to Charlotte Huck’s Children’s Literature in the Elementary School, young adults at this age have and interest in older concerns, and identity is important to them. This story is concerned with identity- specifically, Olivia’s identity as the "girl who cried flowers." Even at the risk of losing Panos, Olivia could not escape her identity. Erik Erickson, in Childhood and Society, young adults are "establishing meaningful relationships with others." This story is a good example of the impossibility of a "meaningful relationship" which depends on one partner having to deny herself to make the other person happy. Huck asserts that at this age, they are "sensitive to complexity in human relationships and feelings." Ellin Greene tell us in Storytelling: Art and Technique that "literary fairy tales, with their underlying meaning, humanistic philosophy and bittersweet mood are especially meaningful to young people. . . who find their values in conflict with society." This is a rather moody story with a bittersweet ending; there are no heroes to cheer, no villains at which to hiss. She further states that "teens like stories that provide a bit more intellectual challenge . . . that contain characters who are not necessarily all good or all evil . . . "This story doesn’t have a clear villain or hero – Panos only wanted to see his wife happy, he didn’t set out to dictate an impossible situation. Olivia couldn’t reconcile her two opposing desires: to make her husband happy and to give the villagers what they wanted, so she unwittingly engaged in deception. Greene contends that young adults like to look at "some darker aspects of life. . . that include family conflict, that hint at the complications of emotional and physical love, and that speak to the feelings of powerlessness. That Panos and Olivia loved each other is not in question, neither can we question their feelings of abject powerlessness in their situation. We also get a hint of sensuality and physical love in the hint of the beautiful woman that would come out of the tree and stay all night with Panos.


Bibliographic information on other variants (at least two)? I searched The Storyteller’s Sourcebook: a Subject, Title and Motif Index to Folklore Collections for Children, by Margaret Read MacDonald, in hopes of finding at least one variant. Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful. I began by searching the "Magic" motifs, specifically under "Transformation." I found various headings: "man to man," man to animal," and "man to animal", but was unable to locate any "girl to tree", or even "person to tree or plant." Under the "Sex" motif, I tried the subheadings of "Marriage" neither "Marriage" nor "Married life" yielded anything even remotely close to this story. Next, I tired the "Deceptions" motif, but even "Seduction or deceptive marriage" failed to match this story in any discernible way. K1350 "Woman persuaded (or wooed) by trick looked promising, but the deceptions indexed in this book seem to be primarily deliberate deceptions, in order to gain favor, or a prize of some sort. I then looked up "Crying" in the subject index, but was only pointed to "origin of crying child’s habit of answering "nothing when asked why they cry. . . and girl will bear sons which cause sunshine when they laugh, rain when cry-." Locating "Flowers" in the subject index also produced similar results. References were to: "Bee shows real flowers . . .bouquet of all flowers . . . God snips off bits of flowers to become butterflies", etc. Finally, I looked up "Rose" in the index, and was referenced only to "Rose and amaranth contest… bread in apron of charitable woman turns to roses… girl changed to rosebush by cruel stepmother." I had to conclude that no variants exist.