About the Authors and the Illustrator
Mal Peet was an English author and illustrator best known for young adult fiction He has won several honours including the Brandford Boase, the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize.Three of his novels feature football and the fictional South American sports journalist Paul Faustino. Cloud Tea Monkeys was written in collabroation with his wife Elspeth Graham. Together they also published The Mysterious Traveller and The Night Sky Dragons, all part of the same series inspired by stories of early trade and The Silk Road.
Juan Wijngaard was born in Argentina and moved to the Netherlands in his teens. After graduating from the Royal College of Art in London, Juan worked as a children’s book illustrator, winning the Kate Greenaway Medal for Sir Gawain and the Loathley Lady. Juan lived in the U.K. for nearly 20 years. He now lives and paints in New Mexico, USA.
About the Book
When Tashi’s mother falls ill she is no longer able to earn a living by picking tea. Tashi is faced with the impossible situation of needing to earn money for the doctor to come but not being able to reach the tender shoots. Cloud Tea Monkeys is a thought provoking read and children could discuss the issues faced by Tashi as she attempts to take care of her sick mother. The relationship between humans and animals is an important theme, as well as the way in which people earn a living. The tale is brought to life by the sumptuous illustrations which support the reader’s understanding of the characters. A wonderful read aloud but with plenty of scope to explore aspects of characterisation and the themes of the story in guided reading. Could also be used as a whole class text.
Look at the front cover. Some things to consider:
- What is the girl holding?
- What do you notice about the steam?
- What do you think Cloud Tea Monkeys are?
- What does the name mean?
- Do you know where tea comes from?
Make a display of different tea packets. Include a range of teas so that you cover the major tea produces. Have the children investigate to find out where the tea comes from and mark on a world map or globe. Handle and small loose tea. If the children don’t know how tea is grown, ask them which part of the plant is used. Can they tell by looking at the loose tea. We call it tea leaves! So that’s a big clue.
Try some tea smelling. Place 3 or 4 different teas in bags and have children smell and describe them Choose contrasting loose leaf teas like Assam, Gunpowder, Earl Grey, Jasmine. Alternatively, you may want to do this after reading the story. If you can, get hold of some Cloud Tea. It is rather expensive but its worth trying a tea merchant to see if they will send a sample.
Read the opening page
Read aloud to the children so they can experience the rhythm of the text. Then distribute copies of the book.
Invite the children to share their first responses to the story.
- How does Tashi’s morning routine compare to yours?
- What do you learn about Tashi’s life?
- What does the illustration tell you about where the story is set and Tashi’s routine?
After an intial discussion revisit some of the language. For example:
Write this sentence on the IWB, ‘One by one the familiar sounds of the morning drew Tashi from her sleep‘.
What does ‘drew‘ mean in this context?
Can you think of other uses for the word ‘drew’ ‘drawn’ or present tense ‘draw’. For example:
- She drew the curtains.
- He drew a picture.
- The highwayman drew a flntlock pistol from his belt.
- Tashi’s mother was unwell and looked pale and drawn.
- The detective drew a blank. (idiomatic use)
Use more than one dictionary to check definitions. Make explicit the point that many words in English have more than one meaning. Always think about whether the meaning you know works in the context. If not, there may be another meaning for the word that you have not yet learnt. A dictionary can help you refine your choices.
Consider the writer’s word choice. How is ‘drew Tashi from her sleep‘ different from writing ‘woke Tashi from her sleep’? They have the same literal meaning, but the effect is different. ‘Drew’ sounds more forceful. Iti s less neutral than ‘woke’. Consider how the word choice, ‘drew’ suits the pasage.
Read to the end of the first section
From ‘One by one…‘ to ‘Once or twice she stopped walking and pressed her hand to her chest.’
Invite the children to share their thoughts. Ask an open question to check literal understanding e.g. ‘What have we learnt about Tashi and her mother?’
When Tashi’s mother is sick she cannot work and will not be paid. This is serious as they need money to pay for a doctor.
- What clues do we have that Tashi’s mother is unwell?
- What happens when people are too sick to work in the UK?
- Do we have to pay for basic medical care?
- When and where do you think this story takes place?
Look at the role the sun plays in this story. Find different descriptions. Divide them into two piles: positive (good) or negative (bad)
- ‘the sun was kind too, laying warm patches in the road that were good to walk into out of the cold shadows.’
- ‘ A light the colour of lemons was soaking in the sky and painting the stars.’
- ‘ Within an hour the sun had sucked the mist up out of the valleys and hung it like a great curtain over the tops of the mountains.’
- ‘The women stopped work when the sun was a blurred red globe, hanging just above the rows of tea bushes.’
Reread some of the descriptions and encourage the children to visualise the image in their mind’s eye, or use coloured pencils to draw what they imagine.
You might want to add to this list of quotations when you read further in the story.
Read to the end of the second section
Read to ‘After a while she fell asleep.’
Some things to consider:
- How do the Overseer and women feel about the monkeys when they come down into the plantation?
- What evidence can you find for this?
- Why are they not welcome?
- Why do you think Tashi follows them?
- Tashi doesn’t seem to be afraid, why?
- Why do you think Aunt Sonam responds to the Overseer’s harsh treatment of Tashi by covering her face? IS there any evidence to suggest how Tashi feels about this? (On the following page it says Tashi cried for Aunt Sonam, discuss why she might have done that).
- Why do you think the Overseer treats his employees so badly?
Workers carry baskets of hand-picked tea leaves at the Makaibari Tea Estate in West Bengal, India,
How do we know that the basket is very heavy for Tashi. Look at the descriptions of the basket and verb choices:
- Tashi dragged the heavy tea basket to the door. She found that if she leant her body forward she could lift the basket off the ground.
- She hauled the basket.
- Tashi dragged the empty basket. (Even when it is empty, it is too heavy for Tashi).
Compare the illustration of the monkeys coming down to the plantation with the following page where Tashi is sitting with them.
- Do the monkeys seem different?
‘a cough like a stick breaking’
problem ‘like a snake with its tail in its mouth.’
Read the third section
From ‘She was awakened…’ to ‘Come with me.’
- Why do you think the monkeys help Tashi?
- Have they picked these leaves before?
The Royal Tea-taster
Look at the illustration of the Royal Tea-taster. How has the illustrator made him look important? Draw attention to body language, expression, clothing, his groomed beard, his medal. Can you copy his pose?
Reread the text. How do the writers make the Royal Tea-taster sound important. Draw attention to the cart pulled by Oxon (the Royal Tea-taster doesn’t walk), the chair with cushions, the purple silk
His is described as ‘a man made of silver light’. Is he really made of silver light? What impression is conveyed by this word choice?
Spend some time looking at the illustration of the Royal Tea-taster with the Overseer. What can you tell about the relationship between the two men from the picture? How does the overseer’s behavious change in the presence of the Royal Tea Taster?
Look at the illustration that shows Aunt Sonam, Tashi and The Royal Tea-taster. What do you think each of them is thinking? You could use thought cloud post-its to record their thoughts and share with other children in your group by passing the books with the Post-its stuck on the illustration around. Make explicit the point that we can infer a character’s thoughts and feelings from their body languge and expressions.
Look at the four pencil drawings of the Royal Tea-taster. What is he doing in this sequence? Why do you think the illustrator chose to use four pictures rather than one?
Why do you think the Royal Tea-taster looks like a man ‘who had seen an angel’?
Where do you think The Royal Tea-taster is taking Tashi?
Read the final section
Look at the final image. What expressions do you imagine on Tashi and her mother’s faces?
Did you enjoy this story?
Some things to think about
- Where do you think the Royal Tea-taster found Cloud Tea before?
- Is there a moral to this story?
- What do you think it is?
Read the author’s note at the end of the book. Use the internet and other sources to find out about The Silk Road.
How is tea produced today? Is it still picked by women carrying heavy baskets on their backs?
Can you find out how much an expensive tea like Cloud Tea costs? How much does basic black tea cost in the supermarket?
- China’s ancient bushes of Da Hong Pao produce one of the most expensive teas in the world, astonishingly costing more than 30 times its weight in gold.
- A 155-year-old tea estate in India’s Darjeeling district sold the most expensive tea ever made in the country. In 2014 buyers in Japan, the U.S. and the U.K. bought the specialty tea, named Silver Tips Imperial, for $1,850 per kilo
Have a look at a range of tea packages. Use a net to design a package for a blend of tea. You could present your final design ‘Dragon’s Den’ style to a group of judges.
In pairs, find examples of the way the authors evoke different senses: sight sound, smell, touch. Here are some examples:
- ‘The cough was hard and sharp like a stick breaking.’
- ‘a great outburst of screeching and whooping.’
- ‘the leaves were the colour of emeralds and spangled with tiny droplets of water.‘
- ‘the basket seemed full of green light and a rich scent.’
- ‘a man made of silver light like the moon.‘
- ‘gold threads glittered in his blue turban, and his long white coat was so heaviy embroidered with silver that it seemed to be made of white fire.’
- ‘sucked in the tea with a tremendous snorty slurping sound.‘
Encourage the children to use sensory writing in their own work.
Write a non-chronological report about tea.
Beautiful Curvy roads on Old Silk Route,
Choose another item that was traded along the silk road and write your own story about it .Besides tea and silk, the Chinese also exported (sold) teas, salt, sugar, porcelain, and spices. Most of what was traded was expensive luxury goods. They imported, or bought, goods like cotton, ivory, wool, gold, and silver.
Imagine that 3 years have passed. Tashi is the new Royal Tea-taster. What is her life like now? Write a letter as if you are Tashi writing to your mother. Tell her about your new life and how different it is since your change in fortune, the day the Cloud Tea Monkeys came to your rescue.
Picking tea in hard conditions is back breaking, especially for a young child. In the UK laws protect very young. There are just a few jobs that they are allowed to do and there are strict regulations to protect them. Until the nineteenth century children worked in very poor conditions in the UK. Your class might be familiar with Oliver Twist, David Copprfield. A series of laws called the Factory Acts were passed to protect children Find out about places where child labour is still used. Why do people employ children?
Some facts about child labour:
1. At least 13% of world’s children (aged 10-14) is working? (This does not include millions of child workers under 10)
2. A child facotry work spends on average 50%, of their day working (12 hours per day) Mot adults working full-time in the UK work 7and a half hours a day.
3. 30% of farm workers worldwide are children.
4. 94% of working children live in developing countries?
If you enjoyed this book, you might like…
Dyan Sheldon and Gary Blythe Moon Dragons
Mal Peet, Elspeth Graham and P J Lynch The Mysterious Traveller
Cherry Gilchrist Stories from the Silk Road
Copyright: Just Imagine Story Centre Ltd 2012-2018. All rights reserved.
These notes may be printed freely for use in classrooms but may not be reproduced in any other format without the permission of the author.