Check This Out: How The Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea

With me on the blog today is the always lovely Kate Hosford. She’s here to talk about her latest picture book, How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea, which was illustrated by the amazing Gabi Swiatkowska. This book, published by Carolrhoda Books in March 2017, is too delightful for words.

  

Check out the book trailer:

Now, let’s talk to Kate!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Kate: (1) I love the tea set that my grandmother left me.

Kate’s grandmother’s Spode china

(2) When I studied in India during college, I loved drinking chai on trains.

Indian chai at the launch party at Books of Wonder in New York

(3) This summer, I got to drink tea at the Buckingham Palace Garden Café, where they have really nice paper cups.

Fancy to-go cups

(4) My new favorite place in New York is the Japanese tea house, Cha-An, where they have wonderful Matcha and a great selection of desserts.


Matcha with something sweet at Cha-An

El Space: How did you come up with the idea for this picture book?
Kate: At first, I simply had a vague idea about a queen going around the world and drinking tea with children from different cultures. But after several revisions, the story became about a lonely, pampered Queen who thinks she is searching for the perfect cup of tea, when she is actually searching for friends and meaning in her life. In the final version, tea still has a multicultural function in the story, but it is also a metaphorical device for tracking the Queen’s emotional state. Gabi Swiatkowska did such a great job showing the Queen’s many emotional states not only as she learns to make tea, but as she learns how to do other things as well, like snuggle a kitten.

El Space: This is your second collaboration with illustrator Gabi Swiatkowska. What was your process for working with Gabi? How long was the process from writing to production?
Kate: Gabi and I met in an illustrators’ group in 2000, back when I was doing illustration. We were good friends before we became collaborators, which was probably helpful. This book has a complex emotional arc, with the Queen making a bit more progress in each place she visits, but then backsliding to her old haughty ways at the beginning of each visit to a new place. Gabi did an amazing job of conveying all the emotional complexity in the book. Sometimes I offered opinions that Gabi took, and other times, she would stand her ground. I have learned that when Gabi stands her ground, she is always right!

Gabi and Kate at their launch party at Books of Wonder

I started this book with my faculty advisor, Uma Krishnaswami, in 2009, when I was getting my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I sold it to Carolrhoda Books in 2013, and it came out this spring. In my original drafts, I had the children in each country giving the Queen little gifts, and acting deferential. Uma encouraged me to “turn colonialism on its ear,” and create child characters that are completely unimpressed with royalty. This is when the book really came together. When the children treat her like a normal person, the Queen begins to evolve emotionally.

Interior illustrations © 2017 by Gabi Swiatkowska

El Space: Favorite tea? What, if anything, do you take in your tea?
Kate: I drink a lot of peppermint tea and honey, lemon tea and honey, green tea, and chai.

El Space: In a discussion of why picture books are important, Kwame Alexander said

Picture books are the great experience equalizer. We don’t have to leave the comforts of the beds in the rooms of our houses, and yet we can still travel through time and place and circumstance.

Erzsi Deak said

Picture books are also the groundwork for understanding innately how Story works, as the reader anxiously turns the page to see WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

Why do you think they’re important?
Kate: Oh there are so many reasons! I agree with everything that Kwame and Erzsi said, and here a few other reasons as well:

Picture books can create intimacy. Often picture books are read out loud, either by a teacher or parent. This sort of intimate experience allows the child and adult to bond over the book together, which then gives the child yet another reason to continue reading.

Picture books hone a child’s ear. When picture books are read out loud, they allow children to hear the rhythms and cadences of beautiful language, which hopefully makes them want to read more.

Picture books are good for the brain. The child who is seated next to a picture book reader is synthesizing the words on the page, the language of the reader, and the illustrations. The constant toggling back and forth between these elements is stimulating and complex, forging the neural pathways that are essential for increasing intelligence in a young child.

El Space: Name a favorite picture book from your childhood. Why was it a favorite?
Kate: Probably my favorite book was called Alexander and the Magic Mouse by Martha Sanders and Philippe Fix. It is a gorgeous, eccentric book about an old lady who lives on the top of a hill with a Magical Mouse, a Brindle London Squatting Cat, a Yak, and an alligator. One day, the Magical Mouse predicts that the town below will be endangered by thirty days of rain. It is then up to Alexander to make the treacherous journey into town to warn the mayor about the rain. The book’s illustrations are just spectacular, and I loved the fact that this eclectic group of animals lived with the Old Lady.

The cover where the Old Lady is serving tea

Strangely, I didn’t realize until I just reread the story that tea plays a rather important role in the book. The Old Lady gathers her friends every day in the drawing room for tea, she nurses Alexander back to health with ginger tea when he returns from warning the mayor, and at the end of the book, when the mayor comes to honor the Old Lady for saving the town, she gives the medal to Alexander instead, and invites the mayor and her animal family to tea.

  

The Old Lady, nursing Alexander back to health with ginger tea (left); the mayor, having tea with the Old Lady and her friends at the end of the book

El Space: What will you work on next?
Kate: A poetry collection about how brilliant the octopus is! I read Sy Montgomery’s incredible book, The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonders of Consciousness. and then was lucky enough to meet Sy and interact with her namesake, Sy the Giant Pacific Octopus at the New England Aquarium. I also want to do something funny related to the life of a classical musician. This is a bit of a challenge since most of them had really difficult and tragic lives. However, Jonah Winter was able to do it in his fabulous picture book, The 39 Apartments of Ludwig van Beethoven, where he tries to figure out how Beethoven could have moved five legless pianos to 39 different apartments. It’s such a unique topic, and his treatment of it is wonderful.
I’m also very excited about a picture book I have coming out next spring with Abrams called Mama’s Belly. It’s about a little girl waiting for her sister to be born, and wondering if there will be enough love to go around. (Spoiler alert: There is!)

    

Thanks, Kate, for being my guest!

And thank you to all who visited this blog. You can find How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Indiebound.

Want a curriculum guide for How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea? Click here.

You can find Kate at her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

One of you will find her book in your mailbox or tablet. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. You could name your favorite tea as you comment. The winner will be announced on May 1.

Kirstea, the tea-loving Shoppie, gives Kate’s book five stars!

Book covers, author photo, interior illustrations, and book signing photos courtesy of the author. The Soul of an Octopus, Surf’s Up, and Pumpkin Time covers from Goodreads. Kirstea photo by L. Marie. Kirstea Shoppie doll by Moose Toys.

“More Tea, Please”

Yes, that is a teacup on Kirstea’s head. She is a tea-loving Shopkins™ Shoppie doll. And yes, her name is Kirstea.

I love hot beverages, even in the summer. Seventy percent of the time, I’ll go for coffee. The other 30 percent is divided between tea (20 percent) and hot chocolate.

The post title is a quote from one of my favorite animated characters of all time—Uncle Iroh from the Avatar: The Last Airbender series. He’s known for his love of tea.

There are certain tea flavors I enjoy. Mostly I love a robust tea. But my tea tastes have changed over the years.

Do you have a favorite tea? If so, let me know through this poll or in a comment below:

When I was a kid, my mother always had a box of Lipton tea around. That was the only tea we had. Good old, reliable Lipton black tea. Back then, I was not a big fan of tea. I only drank it if I had a cold or some other illness. So, Lipton tea was the extent of my tea knowledge at the time.

When I was a freshman in college, I discovered Earl Grey, and drank it like it was water. I can’t help thinking of Captain Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation, who loved that tea. But after my freshman year, I dropped tea, and began mainlining coffee until someone introduced me to Constant Comment—another black tea.

I went through a berry tea phase briefly (like Wild Berry Zinger by Celestial Seasonings), before moving to peppermint tea. After that, I fixated on Lemon Zinger by Celestial Seasonings for a time.

While in Shanghai earlier this century (sounds weird to write earlier this century), I discovered green tea. Drank a ton of it, especially at Starbucks, which served green tea lattes long before they debuted in the U.S. But in the last few years, I’ve gravitated toward chai, rooibos teas, and this one, which I’ve written about before.

I started this post thinking I would just talk about tea. But I can’t help equating tea with fantasy books. Many times, when I’ve mentioned that I’m writing or reading a fantasy book, I have received one of two responses:

“I hate fantasy books. Always full of names that are hard to pronounce.”

“Not my cup of tea. They’re too long and boring.”

You see why I equate fantasy books with tea? Now, if you’ve mentioned either of those statements to me, please don’t think I’m putting you down. Many people, even strangers, have told me the same thing. But for me, fantasy books are like tea, because there are so many different varieties—from historical epics to contemporary urban thrillers. Yes, there are books with names that are difficult to pronounce. But Harry Potter, a kid in a fantasy book, has a name that’s easy to pronounce. And Ursula Le Guin has at least two fantasy books under 200 pages in length.

These are older editions. Wizard ends on page 199.

If you don’t like fantasy books, I know I won’t convince you to come to my side of the fence. I’m not here to do that. After all, I don’t like licorice, and wouldn’t want anyone to try to sway me to like it. Instead, I’ll continue to enjoy the rich flavors of the fantasy books that come my way.

A good article on the most popular tea flavors is here.

Uncle Iroh from medievalotakuwordpress.com. Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard from startrek.com. Bigelow Constant Comment tea from Wikipedia. Lemon Zinger from the Celestial Seasonings website. Lipton tea from chromedelivery.com. Kirstea Shopkins™ Shoppie doll and book covers photos by L. Marie.

Suits Me to a Tea

I’m a coffee drinker for the most part. But I love a good, hearty tea when the autumn weather turns nippy. How about you? A new favorite is Trader Joe’s Harvest Blend.

Leaf2

Recently, a friend and I conducted an informal taste test of herbal teas. Among the cinnamon tea blends, we concluded that Trader’s Joe Harvest Blend was the best tasting. This is our opinion, of course. Yet others who tried the tea quickly headed to the store to buy it. They then gave tea bags to other people who then bought their own box of the tea. Yes, my friend and I are tea pushers. The first bag is free. 🙂

Isn’t it interesting that something steeped in hot water can produce such a rich, memorable flavor? Sounds like life, doesn’t it? (Work with me here. It sounds like life, doesn’t it? Just nod your head.) When we’re in hot water—troublesome circumstances—the flavor of our character is revealed. Are we bitter, as some tea is when steeped too long? Or do the “hot” circumstances bring out the best in us?

The subject came up as I recently pondered my reaction to disappointing expectations and problems. As others announced the joyous news of book deals, I contemplated the lack of positive news in my mailbox (including a no for the YA book I queried earlier this year). I soon realized that a thread of bitterness had crept in and wound itself around me, leaving me complaining and paralyzed. Kind of like a mummy in a sarcophagus. Only . . . mummies don’t really complain, do they? And if they’re of the undead variety, they’re not really paralyzed either. Instead, a mummy might break out of his or her sarcophagus and lurch about, terrorizing villages. So that metaphor is a bit labored. But you get what I mean.

A couple of quotes struck me recently:

Tom Ed quote 1-07-Harriet-1024x703

I guess it’s time for me to stop whining and do what I know to do: write and keep going. To celebrate the power of persistence, I’m giving away a box of this Harvest Blend Herbal Tea and some crocheted leaves. (If you want to know more about these leaves, click on crocheted leaves to get the pattern, which was designed by Michelle at The Painted Hinge blog.) I’ll choose a commenter at random. Feel free to comment on a tea you love or some aspect of autumn you love. Or talk about which quote above speaks to you. Perhaps you have another favorite quote about persistence. Winner to be announced Friday, November 6.

012

Thomas Edison quote from pinterest. Harriet Beecher Stowe quote from viacharacterblog.org.

I’d Like to Thank My Parents (2)

CupcakeBirthday-thumbYep. It’s that time of year when a slice of cake or a cupcake with a candle plunks on the table before me, and the angels in heaven sing joyous songs. They sing joyous songs, but not about me, despite this being the anniversary of my birth. Actually, tomorrow is the anniversary of my birth. But I’m posting today.

             007 013

Birthday tulips and Birthday picture book (Yes, this book is just as delightful as it looks.)

I began the week thinking about the upcoming day and feeling old. No, I won’t tell you how old. I felt a little better when I recently read this article at Brain Pickings on the world’s oldest living things, an article inspired by a book—The Oldest Living Things in the World—by famed photographer Rachel Sussman. I didn’t make the cut, since the book’s minimum age requirement is 2,000 years. Whew!

18526648

Big_bristlecone_pine_Pinus_longaevaOne of the items on the list is the bristlecone pine tree. If you live outside the U.S., you may or may not be familiar with this tree. They’re found in the Western states. Some of them look like hairbrushes I’ve had. I’ve always found these trees fascinating, since they’re over 5,000 years old. And I thought the clothes in my closet were old. For someone like me who routinely kills house plants (even cut flowers like the tulips above should be very afraid when they come to stay at my place), anything living over 5,000 seconds, let alone 5,000 years, has my attention.

barometer_woodThe Brain Pickings article included this quote from Sussman’s preface:

The oldest living things in the world are a record and celebration of the past, a call to action in the present, and a barometer of our future.

Celebrating a birthday inspires me to look at the past, the present, and the future as well. In taking inventory of my life, the call to action I feel most keenly these days is to finish my book. To think that I started it three years ago! I’m starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel on that. I think of the book as a hopeful barometer of my future, a future in which this child of mine exists in bound form on someone’s bookshelf. By writing it, I’m celebrating the past as well, a past in which my parents read stories to me before I went to sleep to get me to love books as much as they did (and still do). Reading inspired me to write stories of my own. Over the years, I worked to develop my craft, a desire which led me to VCFA.

So, thanks, Mom and Dad. Thanks for giving me life, and for introducing me to great books. Without that introduction, I wouldn’t be the writer I am today.

And thanks to all of you who stop by to read my blatherings on this blog. Have a metaphorical slice of cake. You deserve it. Go on. There are no calories. And if you drink a diet Coke with it, the calories you ingested yesterday won’t count either.

rose-birthday-cake_2608933

As I close, I have to tell you about something silly that happened to me recently. I received a lovely tin of tea and had looked forward all afternoon to having a cup. Well, I grabbed the first mug I saw sitting around and tossed in a tea bag, then added water and sugar. (Yes, I am a Philistine who uses sugar in her tea.) What I totally forgot was that earlier, something splashed on the outside of my salt shaker. Before washing it, I emptied the salt into the first thing I could grab. You guessed it. The very cup I used for the tea! I took a big swig and . . . arggggghhhh!!! This is what I get for not paying attention to what’s at the bottom of a cup! Now, I really feel old!

009

Birthday tea

What is your call to action? How did the past shape this call? How do you think it will shape your future?

While you think about that, the Feral Cat says hi. (I wrote about him in this post.) Can you make him out? He’s the orange tabby sleeping at the bottom left outside the window.

001

Cupcake from treatsastastytaters.blogspot.com. Birthday cake from freepik.com. Barometer from edupic.net. Bristlecone pine from Wikipedia. Book cover from Goodreads.