Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Book Review: Cloud Tea Monkeys by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham; illustrated by Juan Winjgaard

Tashi is a young girl living in a small village in the shadow of the Himalayan mountains. Every morning she walks to the tea plantation with her mother and sits in a secret spot playing and sharing her food with a band of monkeys who also spend each day there, as she waits while her mother spends the day picking tea. And now her mother is ill with a cough "hard and sharp like a stick breaking". One morning, when her mother is so sick she cannot rise from her bed to go to work, Tashi tries to take her place, dragging the her large tea basket to the plantation. When the heartless Overseer scorns her efforts, Tashi takes refuge in her secret spot and tearfully spills out her troubles to the monkeys. The male monkeys take Tashi's basket and disappear up the mountain into the mist, and return with the greenest, most fragrant tea leaves Tashi has ever seen or smelled.

This poignant tale is filled with lush, descriptive language as fragrant as the mysterious Cloud Tea.  And Juan Winjgaard's detailed, gorgeous illustrations capture the emotion and heart of the story, and so perfectly aided my daughters' understanding of key parts of the story. This is one of those perfect marriages of text and illustrations.
As I read this book aloud to my daughters, I was struck by the realistic portrayal of Tashi's and her mother's life. The writing is so descriptive I could feel the morning chill that burned away to "cruel" heat, the fear in Tashi as she listened to her mother cough, the fear of no money available for a doctor, the weight of the basket she dragged to the tea plantation, her crushing disappointment at not being allowed to pick tea in place of her mother. (You know it's descriptive when your children try to breathe in the tea clouds as you read.) And I marvelled at Winjgaard's talent for capturing all the emotional nuances of the story. My daughters sat enthralled throughout.

Other reviews:
Hope Is the Word
Pink Me

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