Luli and the Language of Tea

Holiday House/Neal Porter. May 2022. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780823446148.
Gr 1-3–While parents and other adults attend ESL classes, Luli is in childcare next door. None of the children speak a common language and all play alone, but not for long because Luli has a plan. With her teacher’s blessing, she brings in a thermos of hot water, a teapot, tea, and cups, then proceeds to make tea for her nine classmates (a teacher observes all of this, but the sight of small children pouring hot tea from one cup to another may need discussion at story hours). When she is done she calls to them in Chinese, “Cha!” Each child looks up in turn and replies with the word for tea in their own language including Russian, Hindi, Persian, Arabic, German, and Swahili. Despite the differences, the word is similar enough that they all understand and are soon passing cups of tea around the table, then portioning out the tea again so there is enough for Luli, who has cookies, too. All of this breaks the language barrier as the children laugh, eat, and play together. Wang’s seamless text weaves the children’s names, spoken language, and pronunciations into her story. Meanwhile Yum’s illustrations give life and personality to the children with spot-on expressions and plenty of detail. Her dynamic perspectives not only give all the characters, who are depicted with various skin tones, a chance to stand out as individuals, but provide momentum to the story. An Author’s Note explains Wang’s inspiration and offers more world tea facts.
VERDICT A delightful look at coming together despite differences that is centered on the immigrant experience of learning English. A great addition to all collections.

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