Taking to Tea : Children are inspired by trappings from era of petits fours and 'Little Women.'

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Barbara Bronson Gray writes regularly for The Times.

There's something about the movie "Little Women" that stirs up--even in young children--a yearning for simpler, yet more gracious times.

That may help explain the renewed interest in old-fashioned afternoon tea sessions for children at quaint tea cottages and at a large, local bookstore.

Beth Spencer and Sara Rounds, co-owners of Little Women in Woodland Hills, have decorated an old cottage to provide a place where children and others can experience a tea party. The fetes are geared to delight young children of the modern age who may find wicker furniture, real china cups and tiny tea sandwiches otherworldly, they said. In February, 32 such tea parties were held there.

"We treat them like little women, and they like it," said Spencer, who founded the tea party house with Rounds two years ago. Spencer and Rounds offer birthday tea parties for children ages 4 to 12-ish, charging $325 for eight participants, plus $22 for each additional child.

The children are welcomed into a Victorian parlor with a fireplace, then spend some time dressing up in an old-fashioned room with antique vanities, an old jewelry cabinet on legs and glamorous vintage clothes. The girls conduct a mock fashion show before being led into the tearoom, where they sip real tea and munch on petits fours, heart-shaped cheese, silver-dollar-size pizzas and other delicacies.

"It's like a fantasy for them, creating sweet memories, a connection to the past and a peacefulness they don't come across very often," Rounds said.

At the Rose Tree Cottage in Pasadena, traditional teas for children and their parents are scheduled twice a month, with readings offered from English stories such as "Alice in Wonderland" and the Beatrix Potter series. There are also afternoon birthday tea parties in a private room, with children enjoying scones and cakes and frolicking in the courtyard, for $10.50 each, plus a room charge of $100 to $150.

Mary Fry, the owner, started Rose Tree 15 years ago out of her own appreciation for the daily tea times she enjoyed as a child with her grandmother in Oklahoma. "Coming to tea gives them a sense of tradition and relaxation, and teaches them that it's important to take time for themselves," Fry said.

Kids take to the lace and linen well. Even children who have never had afternoon tea before seem to assume the role immediately, quickly understanding the more formal, polite culture of a tearoom, Fry said.

Even in the more stark milieu of a modern bookstore, there will be an afternoon tea soiree for children. At the Bookstar in Woodland Hills--where sales of the book "Little Women" have been up since the movie came out--a free "Little Women" tea will be given at 2 p.m. March 26 to celebrate Women's History Month. Participants will nibble on treats and drink tea in the children's area of the store, while a series of readings from the book "Little Women" takes place.

To Fry, the fresh popularity of "Little Women" helps to re-instill the gracious values that sometimes seem long gone. "In this fast-paced, high-tech world, we need a place to take refuge and go back in time a bit," she said.



Location: Little Women, 21938 Costanso St., Woodland Hills.

When: By appointment for parties of 20 or fewer.

Call: (818) 348-3320.


Location: Rose Tree Cottage, 824 E. California Blvd., Pasadena.

When: Noon to 6 p.m., with tea served at 12:30, 2, 3:15 and 4:30 p.m.


Location: Bookstar, 21440 Victory Blvd., Woodland Hills.

When: "Little Women" readings, treats and tea at 2 p.m. March 26.

Call: (818) 702-9515.

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