No Monkeys, No Chocolate

STEWART, Melissa & . illus. by Nicole Wong. 32p. Charlesbridge. 2013. RTE $16.95. ISBN 978-1-58089-287-2. LC 2012000789.
Gr 4–6—Chocolate and monkeys may seem worlds apart, but as Stewart and Young point out in their clear text, it takes monkeys (and other critters) to scatter the cocoa beans (seeds) throughout the rain forest. Munching on the soft, tasty pulp lining the pods as they travel through the trees, the monkeys discard the not-so-tasty beans, scattering them indiscriminately. In a format slightly reminiscent of the old "This Is the House That Jack Built," the authors present a simply written look at a complex ecosystem encompassed by one tree's life cycle. Flowers, midges, leaves, maggots, ants, lizards, roots, and more all form parts of the process of producing the cocoa beans so essential to our candy bars and brownies. In a lighter note, two "bookworms" provide an amusing counterpoint in a tiny triangle at the bottom of the page. Wong's realistic watercolors stretch across the pages in warm cocoa browns and soft greens, with occasional splashes of rosy pink. Appended is a page pleading for more rain-forest preservation (not much mention of cocoa "plantations"), another with lists of things to do to make one's life "greener," and still another with an author's note on the origin and development of the book. For slightly older readers, a more traditional look may be found in Adrianna Morganelli's staid The Biography of Chocolate (Crabtree, 2006), but Stewart's book has more visual appeal (and then there are those monkeys…).—Patricia Manning, formerly at Eastchester Public Library, NY
Melissa Stewart and scientist Allen Young demonstrate the interdependence of species by naming and describing rainforest organisms essential to growing cocoa beans. The ultimate step explains how monkeys help make chocolate: “Cocoa pods never fall off of cocoa trees. If monkeys and a few other animals didn’t scatter cocoa beans on the ground, new cocoa trees couldn’t grow.” A pair of playful bookworms keeps the mood light with ongoing commentary. On the page about cocoa trees’ root systems, for example, one worm jokes, “Now we’re really getting to the root of things.” The page layout—featuring brief text paragraphs on the left side of the spread and silly bookworm banter in the bottom right corner—drives the story forward and entices the reader to turn the page. Nicole Wong’s delicate artwork, with realistic drawings of plants and animals, is reminiscent of scientific sketches. The information provided is substantial enough to use in classroom units about rainforests and ecology.
Starting with the finished products (cake! candy bars! hot fudge sundaes!) and working backward, Stewart and Young explain where chocolate comes from. The expository text begins with cocoa beans, which are dried and processed by humans, then the story moves back to cocoa pods, which come from cocoa flowers pollinated by midges, going all the way back to monkeys dropping cocoa seeds on the rainforest floor and thus allowing new trees to grow. In this way, readers deduce the interdependence of life in the rainforest rather than relying on didactic telling from the authors. Full-bleed ink and watercolor illustrations zoom in on each step along the way, lending visual support to help identify potentially unfamiliar plants and animals. In a corner of each spread, two little worms provide a running commentary, with knee-slappers and puns galore. A concluding note describes the fragility of the environment, and an author's note from Stewart outlines her writing process. A "What You Can Do to Help" page lists general suggestions for conservation. betty carter

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