May 24, 2016

Book Review: 'Tea with Milk', A Picture Book by Allen Say

Image: Tea with Milk, by Allen Say (c/o
Are you familiar with Allen Say's picture books? The stories are not just for children. I first learned about Allen Say in a round-up of his books written by Danielle Davis of This Picture Book Life. Here's an excerpt from that post,
All Say’s books are rooted in a certain time and place. In specificity. They are beautiful, realistic watercolor paintings accompanying unadorned text. They are straightforward and they always seem true. They have compassion for their characters. They reflect on the past in a way that is satisfyingly bittersweet.

Image: Allen Say (c/o

Since then I have read a few of Say's books; I borrowed them from my local library. One of my favorites is Tea with Milk. I think you could have probably guessed this! I wanted to share the story here because as I noted, I like the book, but also because the book is a lovely story about Japanese American and Japanese culture. May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

The protagonist of Tea with Milk is a girl named Masako. Her parents call her Ma-chan and speak to her in Japanese. "Everyone else called her May and talked with her in English." May lives in San Francisco until she completes high school. Then her homesick parents relocate the family to Japan. No one there calls her May. She no longer eats "pancakes and muffins" or drinks "tea with milk and sugar" at her friends' houses. In Japan she has to attend highs school again where she is considered a foreigner or a "gaijin". She takes flower arranging, calligraphy, and tea ceremony lessons at home. Her mother plays matchmaker. Frustrated with this new way of life, Masako leaves home and travels to Osaka wearing "the brightest dress she had brought from California." She finds employment in a department store in the city but finds it dull. She is offered a new job in the same department store after she helps an English speaking family but for this role she has to wear a kimono. I won't write anymore because the rest of the story is worth you reading on your own. It does involve tea with milk and sugar and another move and the creation of a family.

Image: Image: Tea with Milk, by Allen Say (c/o

One thing I found humorous is the current Japanese green tea, especially matcha, craze in the U.S. juxtaposed against Masako's desire for tea with milk.

Speaking of Japanese green teas, I will share my matcha making tools on the blog tomorrow.

P.S. You can see all of Allen Say's books here.

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