Monday, July 16, 2012

CLOUD TEA MONKEYS by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham

Peet, Mal and Elspeth Graham. Cloud Tea Monkeys. Illus. Juan Wijngaard. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2010. 978-0-7636-4453-6. $15.99 US/$20.00 CAN. Picturebooks, Ages 4-7

Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham, in collaboration with Juan Wijngaard, have created a masterpiece of story and art. Tashi, a little girl in a tiny village, accompanies her ailing mother to work on the tea plantation each day, but while the women pick tea, Tashi plays with the monkeys. Finally her mother’s illness keeps her from work, so Tashi tries to pick in her place, but she can’t reach the top of tea bushes! When she shares her woes with her friends the monkeys, they steal the giant basket and disappear into the mountains, returning with a full basket of tea. And this tea isn’t just any old tea – it’s CLOUD TEA – out of reach of ordinary men. Tashi’s rare success is rewarded with enough gold from the Royal Tea Taster to pay her mother’s doctor, to keep her mother out of the fields, and to feed the monkeys!

The prose, particularly the descriptive language, evokes the rhythm and pattern of a traditional fairy tale, as does the ambiguous setting. The illustrations are lush, with vibrant green foliage, deep blue night skies, luminous shadows filtering through the forest, and glowing faces of the characters.

Cloud Tea Monkeys is a beautiful book, a bedtime bookshelf treasure.

Marisa Behan

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