Fancy upscale tea parties trace their roots back to the Victorian era, but when the china dolls and miniature cups are packed away and replaced with more grown-up pastimes, the ritual tends to disappear until later in life (when, for a mere $1,500, aspiring socialites can enjoy tea time at the Plaza Hotel in New York and imagine life as the beloved children’s book character Eloise).
Denyse Waissbluth studied tea culture in China, where the drink originated thousands of years ago. The former Vancouver journalist brings her expertise and enthusiasm to the charming new picture book, Teatime Around the World, exposing younger readers to the pleasures of a nice cuppa in various cultures beyond Eloise’s “Rawther Fancy Tea.”
Teatime Around the World invites readers to enjoy maté on a beach in Argentina, sip sorrel at a family gathering in the Caribbean, and observe the dramatic ritual of pulled tea in Malaysia. Vancouver artist Chelsea O’Byrne – who previously lent her talents to Candace Savage’s Hello, Crow – uses watercolour, gouache, coloured pencil, and other media to create soft but rich scenes that are as soothing as chamomile. O’Byrne’s artistic style is deceivingly sophisticated but not alienating; one can imagine her illustrations of tea accoutrements as a print hanging on the wall of a trendy café.
While tea time is mostly presented as a communal experience to share with friends and family, Waissbluth opens her book with a simple rhyme of “Tea for One. Tea for Two. Tea for Me. Tea for You,” as one of two young girls is depicted daydreaming over a steaming cup across the table from her talkative friend.
The picture book is smartly constructed in how it engages readers of varying comprehension levels. The simple rhyming text, which floats across O’Byrne’s illustrations in a large font, serves as a great primer for early readers. For the more advanced or curious, explanations of how each type of tea is prepared are presented as footnotes.
Teatime Around the World could also double as a gentle conversation starter about finding connections with friends from other backgrounds and how one single beverage can be ubiquitous across so many cultures yet served in so many different, delicious ways.