Chimpanzees for Tea


Written and Illustrated by Jo Empson

Philomel Books, 2016

“Hey, Vincent! This cupboard is looking a bit bare.”

The plot in a nutshell: A boy gets muddled remembering what he’s supposed to get from the shop.

Vincent’s mother gives him a shopping list that includes carrots, rice, cheese, a pear and a can of peas and reminds him to hurry home for tea. As he rushes to the store, the wind blows the list away so he tries repeating the list so he’ll remember it. As he passes the circus, he collects a man on a trapeze instead of a can of peas. Going by the zoo, he picks up a bear instead of a pear and some chimpanzees in place of the can of peas. At the pet shop, he gets mice instead of rice and parrots instead of carrots. Then he surprises his mother by bringing all of his new friends home for tea.


That monkey is going to eat all the watermelon.

Author/illustrator Jo Empson presents a comedy of errors for those times when you’re looking for a book with a silly side. The story is told entirely through conversation, first with Vincent’s mother giving him the list and then with Vincent talking to the people he passes, but mostly to himself as he checks off the ‘items’ he picks up to take home.

Of course, the watercolor illustrations really provide most of the humor here, as we see Vincent struggling to get all these animals home. I love the artistic style, which is loose and playful, matching the story’s feel. And there’s a really funny postscript illustration, showing Vincent’s mother relaxing in an armchair while their new guests seem to be taking on a large share of the housework. It’s a simple premise, but good giggly fun, especially for kids who are learning about rhyming words.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that if you don’t have a list to shop from, you never know what you’re going to come home with.


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