Luli and the Language of Tea:
A Brief Visit with Andrea Wang and Hyewon Yum

h1 April 7th, 2022 by jules


Andrea Wang’s Luli and the Language of Tea (Neal Porter Books, May 2022), illustrated by Hyewon Yum, ushers readers into a child-care room for those learning English as a second language. As you can see pictured below, Luli enters and sees all the other children playing alone. None of the children speak English, and no one is interacting.

But Luli has a plan, which she communicates with her teacher via a drawing. Luli has a tea set in her backpack. In go the tea leaves into the teapot. Luli takes a deep breath and says in Chinese that it’s time for tea. Heads pop up, and Luli hears responses in various languages — Russian, Hindi, Turkish, Persian, Arabic, Spanish, German, Swahili, and Portuguese. Best of all, as Andrea notes below, each response is depicted in the book in its respective script.

The children join together at a round table. Faces light up. Conversations happen. Tea — and cookies — are shared.

In her closing author’s note, Andrea shares her own story of helping ESL learners. She also writes that the Chinese word for tea is similar to the word for tea in many other languages — and explains why. The book’s backmatter also includes maps and information about tea-drinking around the world.

It’s a warm, bighearted story about overcoming fears to make connections. Yum brings to the story, via soft colored pencils, a sunny yellow palette and distinctive, expressive characters. Both Andrea and Hyewon are here today to talk a bit about the spreads featured below, a small handful from the book. I thank them for visiting.

Andrea: I was a super shy kid and still get nervous walking into a room full of strangers, so that’s the feeling I was trying to capture with this page — with the added obstacle of no one speaking the same language.


“The playroom was quiet. Luli couldn’t speak English. Neither could the others.
All around the room, children played alone.”

(Click spread to enlarge)


Andrea: I love that the picture Luli drew last week is the same one that’s hanging beside the door on the interior title page! It’s like an invitation to the tea party in the universal language of art.


“Last time, Luli had played by herself, too, until she had an idea.
She’d drawn it for Miss Hirokane. This time, Luli had a plan.”

(Click spread to enlarge)


Andrea: It was really important to me that each of the children’s native languages were shown in their own scripts. Not only are they beautiful, but they also introduce the concept of other writing systems to young readers as well as make readers of those languages feel seen in a book in a way they might not have before.


(Ch-eye?) Anaya said in Hindi. …”
(Click spread to enlarge and read text in its entirety)


Andrea: This is my favorite spread! Despite not speaking the same language, all the children understand that tea is to be shared and experienced together. I love how Hyewon drew this from an aerial perspective so that the line of the round table connects all the children together.

Hyewon: I made the table smaller on this spread. That shows them closer to each other. They found something in common, sharing tea even when they speak different languages and even though they drink tea in different ways.


“All around the table, children passed tea. Everyone had a full cup.
Except Luli.”

(Click spread to enlarge)


(Click cover to enlarge)


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LULI AND THE LANGUAGE OF TEA. Text copyright © 2022 by Andrea Wang. Illustrations copyright 2022 © by Hyewon Yum. Illustrations reproduced courtesy of Holiday House Publishing, Inc.

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