My Chocolate Year: A Novel with Twelve Recipes to Make Your World A Little Sweeter. Charlotte Herman. Illustrated by LeUyen Pham. 2008. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]
First sentence: "Fifth grade with Miss Fitzgerald is going to be the best grade ever!" I said to my friend Sunny Shapiro as I tried balancing myself along the curb.
Premise/plot: Dorrie Meyers stars in this lovely coming-of-age novel set during the 1945/46 school year in Chicago, Illinois. The war has ended, but its effects are far from over: especially for this Jewish American family.
Dorrie hears or overhears much. Her family is concerned about their relatives in Europe. Did they survive the war? Were they among those murdered by the Nazis? Not knowing weighs on the family. Dorrie is just getting to the age where she's thinking beyond herself to others. But much of her thinking is consumed with the SWEET SEMESTER. Mrs. Fitzgerald, a fifth grade teacher, is known for putting on THE SWEET SEMESTER, a celebration of their time spent together. Each student brings ONE DESSERT that they prepared all by themselves. An essay is also involved. A 'best' dessert and 'best' essay will be recognized...
My thoughts: I enjoyed this historical middle grade novel! I did. It follows the whole school year. It contains plenty of family scenes and school scenes. I loved the characters. I loved the story. I would definitely recommend this one.
As far as age appropriateness--that depends on the child. Readers learn through the dialogue of the characters the fate of some of the extended family. To the overly sensitive child who has never learned anything at all about the Holocaust, it may come as a bit of a shock. It is not melodramatic or manipulative, in my opinion. The fate of those relatives is not the one and only point of the novel.
You certainly can't please everyone. As I'm scrolling through the reviews on GoodReads I'm struck by two camps: HOW DARE A BOOK ABOUT CUPCAKES TALK ABOUT THE HOLOCAUST vs. HOW DARE A BOOK ABOUT THE HOLOCAUST TRIVIALIZE IT BY TALKING SO MUCH ABOUT CHOCOLATE. Life is complex. A girl can both LOVE, LOVE, LOVE desserts and spending time with her family and friends and listening to her most favorite radio programs AND be concerned about her extended family.
© 2021 Becky Laney of Young Readers