Cloud Tea Monkeys by Mal Peet and Elsbeth Graham

Cloud Tea Monkeys by Mal Peet and Elsbeth Graham is based on a centuries-old legend about tea-picking monkeys.  As the story begins, the reader meets Tashi, a young girl who lives alone with her mother, a tea picker, in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains.   Each day Tashi accompanies her mother and aunts who travel to the rolling tea plantations to pick tea. While the adults work in the fields, Tashi plays and shares her lunch with a troupe of monkeys under the shade of an ancient tree.  

Tashi’s life is disrupted when her mother falls ill and is unable to pick the tea that not only provides for their day-to-day needs, but also would pay for a doctor to heal her mother.  Tashi sees this as a problem that goes “around and around, like a snake with its tail in its mouth.” Tashi decides to try and take her mother's place and pick the tea herself. How will a young girl fill a basket full of tea when the basket is taller than she is?

The book has beautiful details throughout – the weight of the paper, the patterns inside the front and back cover that resemble beautiful tile work, and the history behind the legend of cloud tea.  The writing and story will draw the reader in with a gentle lesson about loyalty and the karmic rewards of kindness.  The full page, framed pictures in full-color on one page correspond to the story on the opposite page. Illustrator Juan Wijngaard has captured the setting and personalities of the characters with luminous ink and gouache illustrations that practically glow with life. 

This is a great book for ages kindergarten to 3rd grade, and the illustrations make it well-suited to a bedtime read-aloud.  In a note at the end of the book, the authors write: "Cloud Tea Monkeys is set in the past, but you can still buy "monkey-picked tea", though whether or not it is really picked by monkeys is another story again..." The next time you reach for a hot beverage to warm you on a chilly night, think of Tashi and her monkey friends in the hills of Himalaya.