Cloud tea monkeys by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham
Illus. by Juan Wijngard, Walker Books, 2011. ISBN 978 1406300925.
(Ages 9+) Folk tale. Highly recommended. Tashi and her mother live in the village by the plantation. Each morning Tashi wakes to familiar noises, and goes with her mother to the tea plantation where she and many of the village women work. The overseer, a bossy man, tells them the same instruction each morning, to gather only the most tender of shoots. One morning the familiar noises are replaced by mother's harsh cough, and too poor to afford a doctor, Tashi resolves to take her mother's basket and gather the leaves herself. Being small her efforts are derided by the overseer, and she cries in the nearby woods. Here her friends the monkeys try to placate her, and the males and older monkeys take her basket and rush away up the mountain side. An official tea taster comes to the plantation, and of all the teas gathered, Tashi's tea is the best. It is called Cloud Tea and for her basket of tea, she is given a purse of gold coins, enough to fetch a doctor and for her mother to retire. Each year the tea taster returns with another gold purse in return for Tashi's basket of Cloud Tea.
A beautiful retelling of an old Indian folk tale, sumptuously illustrated with paintings of the women and the tea plantations, along with Tashi and the monkeys, students will revel in this story of a child wanting to help her mother and then the animals helping her. What, for most of us is an ordinary cup of tea, is given extra background with this story showing how it is collected and the importance of this work to the village women. Near to the end of the book is an illustration which stood out for me. It is of Tashi and her mother, with an umbrella, walking along the road to the plantation. There is so much to talk about with just this one illustration, and the whole of the book will entertain and inform students, encouraging them to think about their cup of tea and where the tea came from and who picked it.