Cloud Tea Monkeys

Book review by
Patricia Tauzer, Common Sense Media
Cloud Tea Monkeys Book Poster Image
Folk tale steeped in rich language and elegant art.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The story, and its illustrations, show how and where tea is grown, that it is raised on plantations, and is picked by hand. It also introduces the Asian legend of cloud tea and gives a quick introduction to the world of rajahs, empresses, and wild monkeys who pick the tea.

Positive Messages

Like most folk stories, this one carries the strong message that good overcomes evil, and justice prevails.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The little girl is kind and hardworking, as is her mother and the other women in the story. Because the girl befriends the monkeys, they in turn help her out. The overseer is "bad-tempered," "beaky," and cruel.  He laughs a cruel laugh and humiliates the little girl for trying to fill her mother's shoes. He gets his comeuppance from the more powerful tea-taster for the empress.

Violence & Scariness

No overt violence is shown, but the mother gets sick and can't work, which puts the family in jeopardy, and the cruel, heartless overseer is pretty scary, and humiliates the young girl. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this folk tale, which includes a sickly mother, a brave little girl, a heartless overseer, and a royal tea taster who knows value when he tastes it, came from an ancient legend about tea-picking monkeys. It's a magical tale, OK for younger readers but not really aimed toward them.

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What's the story?

After her mother gets sick, a little girl named Tashi tries to step into her place as a tea-harvester. Unfortunately, she is too small, the job too big, and the overseer too heartless. Luckily, and magically, she is saved from her predicament by a group of monkeys she has befriended and the special cloud tea they deliver for the empress.

Is it any good?

Readers, especially early elementary-aged kids who can read fluently, will love this book. They will be captivated by the way the story is told, as well as by the lessons it teaches. The innocent young girl is pitted against the cruel ogre, justice confronts injustice, poor workers are at the mercy of the plantation owners and overseer, and so on.  Happily, in true storybook fashion, kindness and goodness win out in the end through a very well-earned twist of magic and circumstance.

Though this story itself is not really an ancient folktale, it seems like one. True, as the authors' note tells us, it grew out of "many tea-picking tales we found in the high mountain countries of the Himalayan region."  Together, they have definitely woven those tales into a real classic.  And the artwork makes it even more spectacular.

The cover, and all of the artwork that follows within, are absolutely captivating.  First of all, a children's book with a black cover will catch almost anyone's eye. But this one, with the little girl in the golden shawl, looking almost as if the sun were shining on her, and the steamy swirl of monkeys rising from her cup of tea, promises a rich magical story.  The artwork inside, done in pencil and gouche, is equally rich and elegant. From the quiet peace of the Himalayan landscape, the noise of the chattering monkeys, the emotion on the faces of the characters, and the rich details of the costuming, Juan Wijngaad does a masterful job of illustrating scene after scene.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about tea. How does it grow? Where does most of it come from? Where does this story take place? How can you tell? Look at the scenery and the clothing for clues. What do you think was so special about the Cloud Tea? Do you think it really exists? Do you think it is really picked by monkeys? How could you find out?

  • How is the little girl's life different from yours? Why does she go to work with her mother? What does she do while her mother works? What would you have done? Do you think you would have made friends with the monkeys?

  • When her mother is sick, why does she try to do her mother's job? Why do you think the overseer is so mean to her? How do you think he should have treated her? Why couldn't the other women help her out?

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