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Three Cups of Tea



Uplifting true story adapted for younger readers.

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Most of the behavior is inspirational, as Greg works to build schools in isolated, impoverished areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. A corrupt man steals some of Greg's building materials and tries to make him build a school in his village. When Greg tries to push the workers building the school, his mentor tells him, "We may be uneducated. But we are not stupid. We have lived and survived here a long time." Greg says this taught him the most important lesson he ever learned: "Make building relationships as important as building projects ... I had more to learn from the people I work with than I could ever hope to teach them." A regional chief demands an unfair cut of profits and beats people who don't pay. He forces the village to pay half their wealth in exchange for his "permission" to build the school. Girls are forbidden to attend school in some areas and socially ostracized for pursuing their education even when schooling is available. An interview with Greg's daughter shows her to be an extremely articulate spokeswoman who urged her father to add playgrounds and free lunches to the schools. Some people (Americans) send Greg hate mail because they disagree with his politics.


Armed men kidnap Greg; he worries they'll murder him. Refugees escape a war zone; one girl dies on the way. Greg is in Pakistan on 9/11; his American companions worry about their safety there. Greg pushes an anti-violence message: "If we want a legacy of peace for our children," he says, "we need to understand that this is a war that will ultimately be won with books, not with bombs."


Greg kisses a woman he just met; they marry six days later.


A regional chief calls Greg a "kafir" (infidel).


Greg sells all his possessions to fund his trip to Pakistan. In an interview, Greg's 12-year-old daughter says, "I think kids could totally care more. Instead of asking their mom for $20 to go buy this plastic kung fu ninja that came out, they could say, 'You know what, maybe I don't need this. Maybe I can buy nothing this time.' "

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Opium smugglers are mentioned.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know this inspirational story offers a positive message about reining in consumption in a world where many have so little. The protagonist's life is in danger in a few tense situations; he also receives hate mail from people who disagree with his politics. Younger kids may be distressed that he leaves his own family for long periods, which upsets his children. While the publisher recommends the book for age 8 and up -- and there's not much inappropriate content -- younger readers may be bored by the mostly adult action and confused by the regional and international politics (even a glossary doesn't make things like "warlord" or "refugee" easy to understand). Middle-grade readers (age 10 and up) will likely find it more engaging.

What's the story?

Thwarted in his attempt to get to the top of Pakistan's K2, mountain climber Greg Mortenson lost his way coming back down the second-highest mountain in the world and ended up in a small, isolated village. After bonding with the villagers, he promised to return and build a school -- and he did, despite many obstacles. He continued to visit the region as director of the Central Asia Institute, building additional schools and public work projects, despite dangers such as a kidnapping and death threats. In this edition adapted for middle-grade readers (a picture book version for even younger readers called Listen to the Wind is also available), black-and-white pictures and a section of color photographs help young readers connect with the villagers and their children. It also features an entertaining and enlightening interview with Greg's daughter, Amira.

Is it any good?


Some people may tempt karma by picking apart a book about a man's selfless pursuit to help others, but not this reviewer; sure, the writing is prosaic, but the story certainly isn't. THREE CUPS OF TEA's best moments offer insight into other cultures and ways of life -- such as when Pakistani hunters kill an ibex and hand cubes of fat out to the children, "who sucked on them like candy."

Greg's ability to make friends and forge relationships -- strangers give him $20,000 checks, and men make 20 trips carrying 90-pound bags of cement to help him -- form the book's heart. The book avoids didactism, even when it might be helpful to include additional context to help American children born into a world of iPods and Wiis grasp the poverty and stark lives of children in other countries. Perhaps on some level they'll relate to the quiet power of Greg's Pakistani mentor, who spent hours with the Koran despite not being able to read. Being illiterate "is the greatest sadness in my life," he tells Greg. "I'll do anything so the children of my village never have to know this feeling."

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about ways that kids can make a difference in the world (the book offers several avenues for involvement). Do you have to do as much as Greg to contribute? 

  • In an interview with Greg's 12-year-old daughter Amira, she says that compared to children in Pakistan, "we are spoiled ... We have so much more than them and we're still picky." After reading the book, do you agree? Are there ways to cut back on consumption?

Book details

Authors:Greg Mortenson, Sarah Thomson, David Oliver Relin
Book type:Non-Fiction
Publication date:January 22, 2009
Number of pages:215
Publisher's recommended age(s):8

This review of Three Cups of Tea was written by

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Parent of a 12 year old Written bykananbengali January 24, 2011
What other families should know
Educational value
Kid, 10 years old November 8, 2009
I really love this book, but may be scary.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Parent Written bydeborahs3 February 3, 2016

Unfortunately, it's fiction

I think it's unfortunate that the author, who had a good idea, decided to deceive readers into thinking the events of the book actually happened. This is a shameful hoax. And very profitable to Mortensen. Parents should inform their children that this book is a fiction - and worse, a sham. "Mortenson has been criticized by writers such as Peter Hessler and Jon Krakauer for financial mismanagement of his charity, for 'dodging accountability' and for writing a book Krakauer described as 'riddled with lies.'