Cloud Tea Monkeys, by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham, illustrated by Juan Wijngaard first published in the U.S. in 2010 by Candlewick Press
High in the thin air of the Himalayas, Tashi lives with her mother in a tiny village.
Mornings are met with a steaming cup of sweet tea. Days are spent picking tea on the vast, emerald plantation. Life, it seems, depends upon tea.
Tashi is not old enough to join the women picking. Instead, she spends her time befriending the rascally monkeys who tear through the plantation daily. She shares her lunch with them, coaxing their trust.
When Tashi’s mother becomes ill, Tashi valiantly tries to pick the quota of tea herself, but the surly Overseer will have none of it. To make matters worse, those pesky monkeys grab her basket and disappear with it into the misty mountaintops. Tashi is woebegone.
What happens next is an extraordinary surprise which you’ll have to read to discover! It involves a majestic Royal Tea Taster, a Deputy Chief Tea Boiler, the Empress of All the Known World, and some out-of-this world cloud tea.
Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham, a husband-and-wife team, are from the UK and are thus Highly Trustworthy Tea Tasters who also happen to be excellent storytellers. Awhile ago I reviewed their book, Mysterious Traveler, which I dearly love. You can read that review here.
The gorgeous language, exotic setting, and engaging plot (not to mention the capricious monkeys) of this book set it apart. Added to that, it’s heavily illustrated with beautiful paintings of lush green fields, amethyst mountain mornings, handsome Himalayan faces, a very stout and resplendent Royal Tea Taster, and a bunch of cavorting monkeys. This is a beautiful book through and through.
It’s longer than your average picture book and a bit shorter than most early chapter books. It would make a great, short, read-aloud for ages 5 and up, or a welcoming story for a sturdy reader to tackle on her own. Always accompanied by that cup of tea, of course!