Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Rain Forest Secrets

For whatever reason I'm noticing things this spring and summer, I've never noticed before.  There appear to be more of everything in my little corner of the natural world; more pine cones, maple seeds, blossoms on all my perennials, weeds, and a boom in the insect population.  Last week I noticed a particular bush next to my deck was not only loaded with flowers but hundreds of honey bees were swarming, gathering pollen, small bunches of yellow clinging to their legs.  Unlike yellow jackets, who attack with seemingly unprovoked glee, the bees allowed me to get close and watch their work.

Learning to listen not only to people but our natural world is an important lesson.  Each day parts are being played, vital roles in a chain of events crucial to the planet's numerous ecosystems continuing to function.  No Monkeys, No Chocolate (Charlesbridge) by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young with illustrations by Nicole Wong gives readers a greater appreciation and understanding of the intricate balance that brings chocolate into our lives.

Chocolate chip cookies.
Chocolate ice cream.
Moist, fudgy brownies.
What makes all these desserts so delicious?

The mouth-watering, delectable answer to that question is chocolate.  But what dots need to be connected to give us this food?  First a journey is in order, a journey to the tropical rain forests of Central and South America.

We readers follow, page by page, as each element is introduced.  Cocoa beans, cocoa pods, cocoa flowers, midges, cocoa leaves, maggots, cocoa stems, lizards, cocoa roots, fungi, and back to cocoa beans and yes, monkeys.  It's interesting to note how every step of the way the various parts of the tree, the flora, relies on some form of fauna and fungi to function.

Readers become further acquainted with each part through a careful, clear explanation of a particular process or detailed description of the object itself.  Cocoa beans are dried in the sun before being roasted, then washed and squished, thirty to forty beans are found in a pod, small, lumpy footballs, encased in a white material not unlike thick slime or hungry midges feast on cocoa pollen, unknowingly spreading it from blossom to blossom. The purpose of coffin flies (the name is a clue) in the control of leaf-cutter ants is a cringe-worthy but crucial fact.  You can't help but feel your wonder growing for the intricate workings of this particular cycle.

In one of the more interesting explanations of how a book is born, Melissa Stewart outlines the various stages she pursued over the course of ten years.  In the finished title the presentation of information is done using a three-layer technique; the specific terms, an elaboration on each and the commentary of two bookworms.  These insightful but humorous conversations begin as early as the front cover of the book and continue to the back.  The back and forth banter between the duo serves to supply balance.  For example after a description of the anole's connection to the cocoa tree---

Wow! No lizards, no chocolate.
That's right.  They eat the insects that harm cocoa stems.
Maybe we should send them a thank-you note.

Even without the timeline, the thorough research of Stewart is evident as is her knowledge of what to include for her intended audience.  Readers are told precisely what can be seen, what happens, but through using language understandable to them. Every reader will take away new information.

All of the illustrations by Nicole Wong are rendered in ink and watercolor.  Each are double-page spreads including the matching jacket and cover with the exception of the initial title page and Cocoa and Rain Forests, What You Can Do to Help and Author's Note pages.  Like the work of Melissa Stewart each representation is done with accuracy conveying to readers a true sense of the tropical rain forest.

Whether depicting a panoramic vista, a close-up, or a cutaway, the details are intricate; three tiny caterpillars are crawling away from a chewed leaf, a vibrant parrot is perched on the edge of the frame for the cocoa beans drying, a midge crawls from the inside of a blossom and roots finger their way through the ground.  Her delicate lines, colorful hues and shading are full of life.  The layout and design, in particular for the two bookworms, is eye-catching.  In the lower right-had corner of the two page illustrations a corner is turned up giving a space for the two.  That page curl is a perfect match to the next page.  One of my favorite illustrations is of the cocoa flowers forming the pods.

No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young with illustrations by Nicole Wong is a work of nonfiction rising above other titles for its authenticity in text and pictures.  Even after several readings I found myself actively engaged each time, looking for added items in the visuals and marveling at the knowledge I was gleaning from the writing.  I highly recommend this book to be included in library and classroom collections.

Please follow the links embedded above to the author's and illustrator's websites.  The ten-year timeline is a must see, containing videos, portions of drafts and artist sketches.  Here are links to a word search and a secret note shown at Melissa Stewart's website.  A reader's theater and teacher's guide can be accessed by following this link to the publisher website.


  1. Thanks for the great and thorough review and for including all the links.

    1. You are most welcome, Melissa. Thank you for sticking with the "spark" and bringing this book to readers. Ten years is a long time but your passion shows on every page.

  2. Wow you really go into great detail- can't wait to read more. I have nominated you for a Liebster Blog Award.
    Go to http://organizedlibrarian.blogspot.com/
    for more information!

    1. Thank you, Susan for stopping and for your kind comments. I will head over to your website to check out the LBA. Your nomination is appreciated.

  3. I have seen this one on-line but haven't found it yet. I am hoping my bookstore will have it in soon. Thanks for linking up

    1. I special ordered it from my indie store. I think you and your students are really going to like it. And you're welcome.