Monday, November 19, 2012

Tea with Milk

Say, Allen. 1999. Tea with Milk. Ill. Allen Say.  New York: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 9780547237473

Tea with Milk is the story of Masako, or May to her friends in San Francisco.  May was born and raised in America, but must return to Japan when her parents decide to return home.  May must learn to assimilate into a culture which is hers and yet feels strange and out of place.

Tea with Milk is written in a linear format.  It is the story of one young woman's journey away from one home and to another.  Say pays wonderful tribute to his mother and tells the story of two people who feel like outsiders and how they made a home. 

Cultural markers run throughout the work.  Say incorporates the differences between Japanese culture and American culture seamlessly through May's homesickness and acceptance of her new home.  The differences begin to be highlighted on the first page of text.  "At home she had rice and mi so soup and plain green tea for breakfast.  At her friends' houses she ate pancakes and muffins and drank tea with milk and sugar" (p.4).  Perhaps the most striking cultural difference which is depicted is the different role and expectation of women between the two cultures.  May had planned to attend college, work, and live on her own in San Francisco. However, in Japan she is expected to learn to serve tea and marry well.

Say helps to depict the sadness of May with his illustrations.  The illustrations progress from shades of gray and muted pastels to a firmer, darker landscape as May finds her way in her new world and creates a home for herself.  Traditional kimonos and school uniforms help to define the landscape and provide identifying cultural markers even without the text. 

Say's masterfully executed watercolors tell as much of this story about a young woman's challenging transition from America to Japan as his eloquent, economical prose.- Publishers Weekly
This is a thoughtful and poignant book that will appeal to a wide range of readers, particularly our nation's many immigrants who grapple with some of the same challenges as May and Joseph, including feeling at home in a place that is not their own.- School Library Journal
This perfect marriage of artwork and text offers readers a window into a different place and time.- Library Journal(May)
Painted with characteristic control and restraint, Say's illustrations, largely portraits, begin with a sepia view of a sullen child in a kimono, gradually take on distinct, subdued color, and end with a formal shot of the smiling young couple in Western dress. - Kirkus Reviews
"Continuing to explore place and home, Say tells the story of his mother, first introduced to readers in TREE OF CRANES. Born in California to Japanese immigrants, Masako is miserable when she moves to Japan with her parents after high school. The illustrations capture Masako's unhappiness and also her eventual contentment as she learns to combine two cultures." Horn Book


Read more about author Allen Say at
Read an interview with the author at
Have a tea ceremony.
Explore Japanese culture.  Compare Japan to America.  How are we the same?  How are we different?

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