Oct 12, 2020

Care For Some Tea? The Choices Are Amazing!

 I'm a product of a coffee-drinking family, as most families were in the mid-twentieth-century. Summer included iced tea, usually loaded with sugar, but other than that the little box of Lipton Tea Bags could last a year or more. It was used mainly when someone had a cold or an upset stomach with a squirt of honey or lemon added. Even so, I didn't like coffee or begin drinking it until pulling college all-nighters. That, naturally, set me on a course for many years of serious coffee drinking (black, thank you, and even instant would do in a pinch). Reminder, this was long before gourmet coffee shop concoctions became ubiquitous.

GREYSTONE KIDS, October, 2020

There came a time, though, somewhere back in my mid-adulthood, that drinking coffee  began to feel like pouring acid into my already burning stomach. Cola beverages did the same thing. Somehow, though, tea was tolerated well, tasted "okay", and provided that caffeine boost I often needed. In the years since, it's been tea-and-only-tea for me. I've tasted countless kinds of tea, never looking back at that coffee habit. 

As a dedicated tea drinker (and occasionally a grumpy one when it was not available at public events), I felt reasonably knowledgeable about tea types, flavors, and even a variety of cultural customs. I read THREE CUPS OF TEA, I invited Japanese guests to my classroom to explain the tea rituals, and I sometimes received gifts of delicious and unusual teas from around the world.

When the publishers sent me a copy of TEATIME AROUND THE WORLD, written by Denise Waissbluth and illustrated by Chelsea O'Byrne, I was delighted. Don't you love that enormous orange teapot on the book jacket, featuring culturally and ethnically diverse characters enjoying tea in distinctly differenct ways? Under that cover, on the hard case, is a simpler image of a cup of tea, a spoon and some sugar cubes. The end papers provide a variety images related to tea-drinking, including among them a familiar honey-bear  dispenser, cups, tea bags, and less familiar bowls, preparation utensils, milk, honey, and plant  leaves, berries, and other botanicals. Altogether the images, hints, and color tones are inviting and suggest the surprises inside. 

I was not disappointed from the first page to the last. Limited and lyrical text sprinkles phrases and lines across the tops of each page, enriched by illustrations that reflect friendships, cultures, customs, global settings, and various preparation and serving practices. On many of those pages related explanatory text appears near the bottom of the page. These provide information about types of tea, history of uses, varieties of sources, and revelations that will surprise. 

I finished this book, including the helpful (and accessible) author notes, graphic illustations then turned back to the beginning to read it again. The illustrations in a graphic style are perfectly balanced with these parallel texts, since the simplicity of crisp edges and bold colors will delight the youngest audiences while encouraging pauses. Examining any page will reveal depth of detail and nuances of cultural patterns and visual references. This effect, too, reflects the ways that tea wraps itself around our lives with layers of taste, connections, and appreciations. 

Before reading this I imagined myself to be somewhat  informed about tea and its place in the world, including practices related to its preparation and consumption. I was delighted to learn so many new things, and it made me certain I'll seek opportunities to expand my tea-life. Kids will undoubtedly feel the same way. After all, in Iran they serve tea with rocks (rock candy), some teas are more like soup, and Thailand serves iced tea in bags. I've never met a kid who wouldn't love to try those out. Some are medicinal, and sometimes tea is strained through a device that looks like a sock, so it is called silk stocking tea. Those may cause a nose or two to wrinkle, but read about it before making a decision.

Whether you are a longtime tea-drinker, a die-hard coffee sipper, or a kid who begs for carbonated beverages, this is book that will pique your interest. It is beautiful in all the ways picture books can be, but it is also an invitation to lift our gaze to the little things in life that are similar around the world, that enrich the world with local customs. Pour yourself a hot cup of tea and settle down with this delightful book.

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