The Tea Party in the Woods
By Akiko Miyakoshi
Kids Can Press
Everything is not as it seems. That premise has been the starting point for some of the most enduring stories in children’s literature. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, anyone? And how about that wolf in Little Red Riding Hood? It’s also been behind some big flops. An “everything is not as it seems” story can quickly fizzle out when the conclusion isn’t worthy of the tension leading up to it (to put it in film terms, see: the second half of M. Night Shamalan’s career). With The Tea Party in the Woods, Akiko Miyakoshi has created a book about the kindness of strangers, with an atmosphere of mystery. It’s among the best picture books of 2015.
Kikko is on a mission. Her father left for Grandma’s and forgot the pie. She rushes out the door into the snow, stumbling and crushing the pie in her efforts to catch up to him. She picks herself up and spots her father in the distance. Kikko follows, only to come to the slow realization that the man she’s following isn’t her father (indeed, not even a man), and they aren’t going to Grandmas. She arrives at an animal tea party, without another human in sight. A talking, but nevertheless kind goat invites her inside. Kikko is afraid, but is received as a friend, and the animals pitch in to fix her pie problem.
I know I probably shouldn’t go here, but I can’t help but draw comparisons to the film Eyes Wide Shut. Now I fully understand calling a picture book “Eyes Wide Shut for kids” is probably not doing it any favors. So I’m not calling it that. Eyes Wide Shut goes to much (much) darker places than this book. But come on! The surreal atmosphere. An isolated main character who arrives at a party uninvited, fearing how the guests will react – this is a picture book that could have been directed by Kubrick is all I’m saying.
The illustrations are done in charcoal. Color is used sparingly, and to great affect. Black and white dominate the beginning of the book, setting the eerie tone. As the story progresses, more colors are introduced, highlighting the characters and reflecting the mood shift. Is it just me, or is black and white charcoal/pencil becoming more and more popular? Hmm – I’d say more, but I think I’m on to a future blog post, so I’ll explore that topic another day.
In The Tea Party in the Woods, everything is not as it seems. It’s much more magical. Read this book and love it. I bet you will.
Review copy from the publisher.
Watch The Tea Party in the Woods book trailer: