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  • Ratha Tep

Interview with Andrea Wang, LULI AND THE LANGUAGE OF TEA

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.

Max's Boat Pick:


Written by Andrea Wang and illustrated by Hyewon Yum

Publisher: Neal Porter Books (May 24, 2022)

What inspired you to write Luli and the Language of Tea?

AW: "I read somewhere that the word for 'tea' is similar in over 200 languages, which piqued my curiosity. As a child of Chinese immigrants, tea has always been a big part of my life: helping make it, serving it to my parents' friends, and, of course, drinking it. I wondered if this bit of information was true, and if so, how did it come to be that way? I discovered that the word for 'tea' in many different languages all stemmed from the Chinese word, since tea was invented there. As tea was exported around the globe, the Chinese word for it (in a few different dialects) spread with it and morphed along the way. I envisioned the similarity of the words bringing children from all over the world together to share a cup of tea, and that's how Luli and the Language of Tea was born. I'm always looking for ways to show children that people have more in common than they might think!"

For those who love Luli and the Language of Tea, can you recommend a few other picture books that you think they might also enjoy? "Since studying ecology in college, I've been fascinated by the interconnectedness of all things. I love how Everything is Connected by Jason Gruhl and illustrated by Ignasi Font conveys this same concept in a really fun, lyrical, kid-friendly way. The book doesn't say how we are connected to everything; it encourages readers to find out on their own and thereby stretch their minds.

Like Luli, the young girl in Huy Voun Lee's beautiful book Like a Dandelion is a newcomer to the United States. She compares herself to a dandelion seed, "...finding a new home / even in the tiniest space." Over the course of a year, we see the girl make new friends, grow, and blossom. This is such a sweet and reassuring story about the resilience of immigrants and setting down roots in an unfamiliar land.

Dumplings for Lili by Melissa Iwai is a wonderful intergenerational and intercultural story about dumplings from all over the world. Young Lili is making baos with Nai Nai when they discover that they are out of cabbage. Her grandmother sends Lili to borrow cabbage from a Polish grandmother in their apartment building. That grandmother, Babcia, has cabbage to share but needs potatoes for her pierogi. Lili traipses all over the building, fetching and carrying ingredients for everyone's dumplings, which are all different. I love the theme of how sharing and caring for each other builds a loving community, a much-needed message during our challenging times."

What did you love reading to your sons at age three? At age five? "I loved reading all of Grace Lin's picture books to my sons when they were those ages. I also loved hearing them laugh, so I read lots of humorous books to them like Ice Cream Bear by Jez Alborough, Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French and illustrated by Bruce Whatley, and Walter the Farting Dog by William Kotzwinkle and Glenn Murray, and illustrated by Audrey Colman."

What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "We are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom and illustrated by Michaela Goade is so much more than a book about fighting an oil pipeline. It is at once a heartbreaking example of what people are doing to the environment as well as a rousing call to action, reminding us that we are all connected to each other and to the earth, and together we can effect change. Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by the late Floyd Cooper is a heartrending yet sensitive depiction of the worst racial attack in U.S. history -- an event that wasn't simply forgotten, but actively covered up for 75 years. It's imperative that historical events like this are brought to light and the stories shared as widely as possible, if we are to forge a more just and equitable future for our children."


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