Cloud Tea Monkeys by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham ~Illuistrated by Juan Wijngaard
I was drawn to the title of this books because of my love of tea drinking.
A delightful book that draws on a centuries old legend of tea picking monkeys and marries it with modern-day worries of indigenous workers surviving on limited wages.
Tashi and her mother live in a small village situated just below the tea plantation where her mother works. Tashi draws comfort from the daily routines she and her mother have, from rising in the morning to familiar sounds and smells and the chattering of women as they make their way to the tea plantation. Before beginning work the women are subjected to the daily litany from the overseer about making sure they pick the youngest and best tea leaves. Tashi is too small to be fully productive and she spend time under a tree sharing her lunch with the local monkeys.
Their livelihood is thrown in to chaos when Tashi’s mother falls in and is unable to pick the tea. This state of affairs continues for some days and eventually Tashi is forced into taking her mother’s place. Of course because of her age and sizes she is unable to lift the tea basket or to reach the tops of the tea bushes where the best leaves are. The women are unable to help her because of the overseers bullying tactics. Downcast and frightened she wanders over to the tree where she shared her lunch with the monkeys. Imagine her surprise when the monkeys took off with her basket and returned much later with it full to the brim with succulent tea leaves.
Tashi gets another surprise when her tea is chosen by the visiting royal tea taster and she is paid a handsome price for it. This good fortune allows her and her mother to rise out of poverty, not great riches but enough to give them a better life.
I would say that this is an illustrated book and not a pure picture book. Saying that, the illustrations brings an added dimension to the story conveying well the different settings, times of day and underlying the relationships between different characters.