Sunday, August 4, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: No Monkeys, No Chocolate

No Monkeys, No Chocolate
written by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young; illustrated by Nicole Wong
2013 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

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How can a children's nonfiction picture book be connected to a famous Seinfeld episode and a Christopher Nolan film? Like the "backwards" TV episode and Memento,  this book about the process of how cocoa beans become chocolate is told in reverse, which is a neat trick for an informational text book. It starts with a party full of chocolate treats like cookies, cupcakes, and ice cream. If you want chocolate, you're going to need cocoa beans. Stewart and Young (whose names would make a fine accounting team) explain how cocoa beans are spread with rakes and dried in the sun. After being roasted, the beans are smashed and squeezed to get the liquid that is used to make cocoa powder. If you want coca beans, you're going to need cocoa pods. Do you see where we're going with this? Cocoa pods lead to cocoa flowers which lead to cocoa leaves and cocoa stems. Along the way, readers also become acquainted with animals that are important to the plant growing process. Female midges crawl inside cocoa blossoms and collect pollen which is disbursed among other cocoa blossoms. The biggest surprise of this book to me, other than the monkeys, is the need for maggots in order to have that sumptuous bar of chocolate. Before you swear off the sweet stuff, let me explain what I learned from this book. Leaf cutter ants enjoy eating cocoa leaves. As a check to their leaf eating prowess, the aptly named coffin fly lays eggs inside the ants' heads. You know what happens from there. The inference that can be made is that cocoa leaves are spared because of the efforts of the coffin fly. Hurrah, maggots! Other animals, such as the anole lizard are helpful in fighting pests. Still wondering about the monkeys? You have to read to the end of the book to find out how they contribute. Think distribution.

No Monkeys, No Chocolate is an interesting and thorough account of how cocoa trees produce the beans that bring us the wonderful food. The sequence of the book is a clever way to present the information. Another fun touch is the presence of two comedic worms that provide a running commentary on the right corner of each two page spread. This feature will appeal to young readers. I would add this book to a unit on plants and it could also be used to teach the skill of sequencing. Roberta at Wrapped in Foil, in her earlier review of this book, would also direct you to the interactive timeline that Melissa Stewart created to show the long process of making this book. Good stuff!

Other reviews:
Wrapped In Foil


  1. I'll be waiting for the upcoming book release to find out what job the monkeys have, but I think I can guess!

  2. Great review, Jeff. It is such an interesting way of delving into the information.

  3. Oh, Jeff...Did you have to talk about maggots and chocolate (my favorite food) in the same sentence?! Guess who I heard speak this weekend at an SCBWI conference in L.A? Melissa Stewart! She gave a wonderful talk about writing nonfiction books. And, of course, she said that the title of this book was chosen as a "hook." Works, doesn't it?

  4. I homeschooled my daughters K-12. Back when they were little I was always on the lookout for clever non-fiction that made learning fun. Now when I buy gifts for my nieces and nephews, I also look for that fun/educational duo.This sounds like it would fit the bill. Thanks for the review.


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