Luli and the Language of Tea by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Hyewon Yum


Luli and the Language of Tea
Author: Andrea Wang
Illustrator: Hyewon Yum
Published April 5th, 2022 by Neal Porter Books

Summary: Though they may speak different languages, kids from all over the world come together to enjoy the shared pastime of tea in this delicious book for young readers.

When five-year-old Luli joins her new English as a Second Language class, the playroom is quiet. Luli can’t speak English, neither can anyone else. That’s when she has a brilliant idea to host a tea party and bring them all together.

Luli removes her teapot, thermos, and teacups from her bag and calls out “Chá!” in her native Chinese. One by one, her classmates pipe up in recognition: in Russian, Hindi, Turkish, Persian, Arabic, and Spanish, Portuguese, and Swahili. Tea is a tasty language they all know well, and it gives them a chance to share and enjoy each other’s company. When all the tea is gone and it’s time for dessert, Luli gets to use her favorite English word, cookie! After that, the playroom isn’t so quiet.

Informed by her own experience as the child of Chinese immigrant parents, Andrea Wang makes the point that when you’re looking to communicate with people, you look for a common bond. The word for “tea” is similar in many languages, and tea becomes the unifying metaphor that brings a diverse group of children together. Additional material at the back of the book explores the rich and ancient history of tea drinking across cultures all around the world and contains maps, statistics, and fascinating details that will delight young readers.


“There’s inclusion from the start. . . . No one language or culture is prioritized, and no one is left out. One of the book’s linguistic treats is that each language’s word for tea is presented both phonetically (as it sounds when uttered out loud) and in written form, giving readers a visual taste of Mandarin, Russian, Hindi, Persian and Arabic.”—New York Times

★ “Wang writes a simple, precise narrative that is more than the sum of its parts. Few writers could conjure up the characters’ contentment as concisely. . . . Yum’s sensitive colored-pencil illustrations use clean lines, rounded shapes, and soft hues to depict the setting and reveal the characters’ emotions. . . . A rewarding read-aloud choice.”—Booklist, Starred Review

“Wang (Watercress) brings a group of children together via a beloved beverage in this warming picture book. . . . a bird’s-eye view emphasizes the community that accompanies sharing a cup of tea.”—Publishers Weekly

“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. . . . A delightful look at coming together despite differences. . . .”—School Library Journal

About the Creators: 

Andrea Wang is the Newbery Honor-winning author of Watercress, illustrated by Jason Chin, which  received the 2022 Caldecott Medal, among numerous other accolades. She is also the author of The Nian  Monster and Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando, as well as the forthcoming middle grade novel The Many Meanings of Meilan. Andrea holds an M.S. in Environmental Science and an M.F.A. in Creative
Writing for Young People. She lives in Colorado with her family.

Hyewon Yum is the author and illustrator of many acclaimed books for children, including Not Little, written by Maya Myers (Neal Porter Books). Other books include This Is Our House, The Twins’ Blanket, There Are No Scary Wolves, and Last Night. Her book Mom, It’s My First Day of Kindergarten! received the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her family.

Review: Andrea Wang has brought us a story in an emergent bilingual classroom showing how there are ways to communicate past knowing the same language. I loved that Luli knew how to bring her classmates together and that the adults in the room were supportive. This is such a beautiful message for all the readers of this book: children and adults.

Oh, and when you finish the beautiful book there is backmatter that truly brings it all to the next level. The note from the author makes the book personal and the notes about the children & language in the book brings linguistics and geography to the book.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Read this book to all the children! I can also see this book being used in teacher education to talk about teaching our emergent bilingual students.

Discussion Questions: 

From the Publisher-Provided Educator’s Guide

  • Setting is where a story takes place. Study the front and back cover of the book and discuss where the book is set. Point out Luli.
  • Take a close look at the title page. Luli is peeking in a door. How does the illustration on page 3 hint
    at what’s inside the door? What do you think Luli is thinking and feeling?
  • Turn to the first double-page spread (pp. 5 & 6) Describe the classroom. What is unique or different about Luli’s new class? Why is each student playing alone? Look at the girl sitting in the blue chair.  What do you think the teacher is saying to her? Why does the boy in the green striped shirt have his head on the table?
  • Luli has an idea that might bring the students together. How does she know that Miss Hirokane, her teacher, will understand her plan if she draws it? Luli makes tea and calls out “Chá!” How is the Chinese word for tea similar to the word for tea in other languages? Explain how this explains the
    title of the book.
  • Describe Luli’s tea ceremony. She serves so much tea that there is none left for her. Pedro takes Luli’s empty teacup. What happens when he passes it around the table? Discuss the changes in the classroom after the tea ceremony.
  • Study the map at the end of the book. How is tea-drinking different in each county? Match the teacups on the end pages to each country represented in Luli’s classroom. Practice pronouncing each student’s name (pp. 18–20), then turn back to the picture where the students are seated at the
    round table sharing tea (p. 11–12) and name each student.

Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Love: Books about school, community, culture, linguistics, geography

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**Thank you to Holiday House for providing a copy for review!**

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