My rating: 5 of 5 stars
One day, a little girl's mother becomes too ill to pick tea on the cruel Overseer's plantation. Without the money, she will be too poor to see a doctor, but little Tashi is too small to take her place amongst the tea bushes. What can Tashi do? What will become of them?
Tashi has befriended the wild monkeys who are hated by the workers and Overseer, who daily beats a tin pot to drive them away. She is so upset that she shares both her lunch and her fears with the largest male, Rajah. She is dismayed when the monkeys take her precious basket and disappear into the mountains, so dismayed that she falls into an exhausted sleep amongst the youngest animals.
She awakens when the basket is returned, filled with leaves "the color of emeralds and spangled with tiny droplets of water so the basket seem(s) full of green light." The Royal Tea Taster, whose mustache is "like a spread of showy wings," is so delighted by the little girl's basket of cloud tea that he gives her a silk pouch with enough gold coins for the doctor her mother needs.
Each year thereafter, Tashi and her mother fill the basket with delicious fruit for the monkeys, and each year the monkeys fill the basket with "the magical green glow of cloud tea."
Even without my lifelong enchantment with tea and its tales, I would have loved this book for its sensitive, gentle, witty prose, its drawings and coloured illustrations, and its aura of antiquity. According to the authors' note, "Cloud Tea Monkeys is set in the past, but you can still buy 'monkey-picked tea,' though whether or not it is really picked by monkeys is another story again..."
The reading level of this children's book is listed as Kindergarten to fourth grade, but I think it would be a shame if the elders amongst us passed it by.