In my last article on a children’s book with a tea connection – Aunt Martha’s Stories About Tea – I remarked on the relative dearth of such books. Lo and behold, not long after writing that one I happened to run across another kid’s book from yesteryear with just such a connection. The Animated Tea Service, by Richard André, is a decidedly more whimsical affair and appears to be geared toward a slightly younger age group.
The book was published in 1882 by André, who also wrote and/or illustrated a number of other children’s books. As the name of this particular work suggests, it’s a fanciful sort of yarn about a bunch of teaware that really does come to life. It all takes place in the household of “little Faith” and her brother Georgie. They begin by debating for a bit as to the how’s and whys of teaware, cutlery and whatnot coming to life. Of course they mention the popular case of the fabled dish that ran away with the spoon, from Hey Diddle Diddle, the old English nursery rhyme that probably predates André’s book by several centuries.
The kids then proceed to amuse themselves by making a “jolly figure” out of tea things, including sugar tongs for the legs, a sugar basin for the body, “nice white lumps of sugar for the shirt collar,” and more. It’s after they’ve gone to bed that night that things begin to get rolling. At the stroke of midnight, “the china-closet became all alive” and a cast of characters springs into action that includes Mr. Sugar-Tongs, Miss Milk-Jug and Grandpapa Teapot, just to name a few. The latter is described as “a stout but jolly Chinaman” who seems to think that he is the emperor of the china-closet (for whatever that might be worth).
As the story proceeds some of the teapots get into a squabble, with leads to a battle and there are casualties, it must be said. But Dr. Cement and Professor Rivet are on hand to help make things right again. None which is apparent to the children, who wake the next morning to find everything with the tea service just as it always was.
Of course, a short summary like this won’t quite do and much of the charm of a book like this is lost if you can’t see the whimsical illustrations. If you’d like to check out the entire package in a free ebook version, go here.
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