By the time Daniel was eight, he savored one precious hour every morning in the chocolate shop with his uncle. Together, they crafted wonderful treasures - melting and pouring, scraping and molding - and Daniel finished each gem like a pro.
Set in 1920s Charlottetown, Cocoa Magic is about Daniel whose greatest joy is helping his uncle in his chocolate shop before school every morning. When a new student starts at Daniel’s school, he can’t help but notice her sadness, and, the following day, he slips a chocolate into her desk to cheer her up. Every day, Daniel brings her a different treat until other students start to notice, and so he brings them treats too. Daniel observes how this little bit of kindness makes the recipient kinder, too. When the uncle leaves on a trip and closes his store, Daniel is bereft, thinking the “cocoa magic” will be gone. However, his classmates surprise him with a desk full of treats to cheer him up, showing him that his kindness has been contagious.
The comfort and happiness that sweets can bring and the lesson that kindness begets kindness is nothing new. The setting and time period are unique, but there is no justification or need for it in the narrative, itself. Doing all the work of creating the setting are Grimard’s beautiful illustrations. In watercolour, gouache, oil, coloured pencil, and digital media, her images are soft yet dynamic and bring the time period to life with the characters’ clothes, the school’s furniture, and the city’s buildings. Grimard particularly shines with the drawings of the sweets which are beautiful and decadent and, even on the page, drool-worthy.
The author, who is a social worker, includes a note about empathy at the end about how empathy can be something we are born with but also something that we can learn, and that empathy can be manifested as kindness.
Cocoa Magic is a nice story about a nice boy who does a nice thing. Though not groundbreaking, it’s a wholesome story with beautiful illustrations and a lesson that everyone can learn from.
Toby Cygman is a librarian in Winnipeg, Manitoba.