November 26, 2021


Written by Priti Birla Maheshwari
Illustrated by Ashley Barron
Owlkids Books
24 pp.
Ages 3-7
October 2021

For kids in North America, it may be a treat to pick up a hot chocolate or a smoothie at their local fast food spot, but for this young girl it's all about the chai, and getting it from the skilled and artistic chaiwala at the train station.
From Chaiwala! by Priti Birla Maheshwari, illus. by Ashley Barron
When she and her mother disembark their train, the child runs to the line for the chaiwala, a person who makes the aromatic and tasty beverage, chai. 
From Chaiwala! by Priti Birla Maheshwari, illus. by Ashley Barron
But waiting for a cup of chai to be made is a whole experience. There is no impatience for the time and effort the chaiwala takes to make that heavenly chai. In fact, judging by the expression on the child's face, every sound and every scent enhances that experience to something ethereal. From the "clink" of the cups to the grinding of the ingredients and the  scooping of tea leaves, the child observes and enjoys. This is not a child irritable with waiting. For her, the making of the chai is as gratifying as drinking it. And her appreciation is as palpable as the tea itself.
From Chaiwala! by Priti Birla Maheshwari, illus. by Ashley Barron
This is teacher Priti Birla Maheshwari's first picture book and, by basing it on a childhood memory of enjoying chai with her family, she is able to evoke an anecdote about the chaiwala and turn it into a sensory celebration. From the smells of the spices, the sounds of the chaiwala at his task, and the colours of the train station and its people, Chaiwala! celebrates an attribute of Indian culture that may be familiar for those living or visiting India but new to others. By sharing, Priti Birla Maheshwari is teaching and inviting readers to see something amazing and perhaps different.

Those same sensory experiences burst from Ashley Barron's paper collage work. Like the busyness of a train station and the symphony involved in the making of the chai, Ashley Barron bombards us with feeling through colour and form. She lets us breathe in the sweet and the spicy, feel the warmth of location and drink, and enjoy the taste of a cup of chai. By focusing on the child and her experiences, Ashley Barron's cut-paper art brings an intimacy to the process of watching the chai being made and then savouring it with family.

Although I've enjoyed a cup or two of chai, I've never visited India, that is, until I read Chaiwala! With this picture book, I experienced a brief moment of being in that train station in Jaipur, watching a child watch the chaiwala and appreciating the specialness of that moment with her mother. I believe my next cup of chai may seem somewhat bland compared to that made by the chaiwala but it'll certainly evoke memories of reading Chaiwala!

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