No Monkeys, No Chocolate
What does a capuchin monkey have in common with a pollen-sucking midge, an aphid-munching anole lizard, and brain-eating coffin fly maggots? Chocolate! Our favorite dessert comes from cocoa beans, which grow on cocoa trees in tropical rain forests. And those trees couldn’t survive without help from a menagerie of rain forest critters. This book tells their story.
Listen to this interview about No Monkeys, No Chocolate on WICN.
Take a look at Melissa’s No Monkeys, No Chocolate pinterest board for more resources and teaching ideas.
Honors and Awards
Arizona Grand Canyon Reader Award Nominee
Authors for Earth Day's Eco Book of the Month
Bank Street College Center for Children's Literature Best Children’s Books of the Year
CBC Best Books of the Year
Cook Prize for Best STEM Picture Book Finalist
Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices List
Green Earth Book Award, Recommended Book
Junior Library Guild selection
Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2013
Library Media Connection, starred review
National Science Teachers Association-Children’s Book Council Outstanding Science Trade Book
National Science Teachers Association Recommended Title
Nerdy Book Club Book Award finalist
Reading Is Fundamental STEAM Multicultural Collection
Virginia’s Capitol Choices’ Noteworthy Title for Children and Teens
Behind the Book
“During an afternoon walk in 2003, I literally stopped to smell the roses and was startled by what I saw—aphids sucking sap, ladybugs devouring the aphids, ants battling the ladybugs. The thriving, active microhabitat inspired me to write a manuscript called Wild Rose Café.

“But after many rejections, I realized that I need to focus on an impossible-to-resist plant. I found that plant—the cocoa tree—during a 2005 trip to Costa Rica.

“When I returned home, I scoured the scientific literature for the facts I needed—what pollinates cocoa, what disperses its seeds, what attacks its foliage. But I came up empty. No one had documented this information.

“At last I tracked down Allen Young, the world’s leading expert on cocoa-tree pollination and growth. He had all the information I needed and agreed to be my co-author. That’s when the work really began.

“I wrote and revised, wrote and revised, trying many different story structures. I kept asking myself, ‘What’s the most engaging way to convey this information?’ By 2008 I knew the book would feature layered text with a “House That Jack Built” feel, but something was still missing. Some of the complex ideas needed reinforcing. How could I do that without being didactic?

“The solution came from my nieces—sort of. They were discussing Halloween costume ideas and asked for suggestions. I said that one year their dad (my brother) won a prize for dressing up like the Swedish Chef from The Muppet Show.

“Did they want to be Kermit and Miss Piggy? No. How about Statler and Waldorf, the two old guys in the balcony? As they giggled, something clicked in my mind. That’s what my book needed—characters to comment on the text and add humor. But not old guys. It needed bookworms! With the final piece in place, No Monkeys, No Chocolate was born.”

“This clever circular tale with a curious title … take[s] children backward through the life cycle of the cocoa tree: pods, flowers, leaves, stems, roots and back to beans. The interdependence of plants and animals is introduced in the process…. Graceful ink-and-watercolor illustrations range from an expansive view of the rain forest to a close-up of aphids…. Backmatter helps young naturalists understand why conservation and careful stewardship is important. Children—and more than a few adults—will find this educational you-are-there journey to the rain forest fascinating.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“The book will entice readers, but what will engage them is the use of two bookworms, which add commentary on the important interaction of rain forest life that brings the best treat. Beginning with common desserts, readers are led on a backward journey to the origin of chocolate. From cocoa beans to pods to flowers, the intricate cycle of the plant and the animals who aid it are chronicled using bright illustrations and clear, descriptive text…. The right mix of interesting and gross facts brings readers together to share the information, and the humor provided by the book worms will induce laughter and rereads of this title. Great for Common Core State Standards literary nonfiction, this book will work well with science and geography units.”
—Library Media Connection, starred review
“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.”
—School Library Journal
“Beginning with common desserts, readers are led on a backwards journey to the origins of chocolate. From cocoa beans to pods to flowers, the intricate cycle of the plant and the animals who aid it are chronicled using bright illustrations and clear, descriptive text…. [T]wo bookworms ask questions, tell jokes, and prompt readers to think ahead and predict. The right mix of interesting and gross facts brings readers together to share the information, and the humor provided by the bookworms will induce laughter and rereads of this title. Great for Common Core State Standards literary nonfiction, this book will work well in science and geography units.” Highly Recommended.
Library Media Connection
“This delightful, easy to read, and beautifully illustrated children's book describes the production of chocolate from the cocoa tree. It explains the intricate way that the cocoa tree depends on many other organisms (including monkeys!) to produce the cocoa beans that are ultimately used to make chocolate…. [T]he story is very well told and the ‘sidebar’ comments by a pair of wise–cracking bookworms on every page keep the story lively and interesting, as well as reinforcing the main points of the story. This book would be an excellent way to introduce young students to the concepts of interdependence among organisms in an ecosystem.”
NSTA Recommends
“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.”
The Horn Book
“Stewart hooks readers with a title that prompts inquiry, and then connects readers with their prior knowledge and interest: chocolate’s role in desserts and tasty treats. Next, she moves into the process by which cocoa beans are processed, and then further back to where and how they grow, and the interrelationships within the rainforest that make it happen…. No Monkeys, No Chocolate makes for a great read aloud, and provides a marvelous introduction to cocoa, life cycles, the rain forest, and the concept of interdependence in nature.” (Read the full review.)
Stylin' Librarian
“I love chocolate. So, of course, a title like No Monkeys, No Chocolate caught my attention. Stewart has effectively combined factual information about cocoa beans with a touch of humor to make an enjoyable read for children.”
(Read the full review.)
“No Monkeys, No Chocolate can be used for units on plants and plant structures, ecology (food webs, ecosystems) and even writing. It will be a must for chocolate lovers, too. Be prepared to discover many new things about something we all take for granted.” (Read the full review.)
Wrapped in Foil
“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.” (Read the full review.)
Librarian's Quest
“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. I would add this book to a unit on plants and it could also be used to teach the skill of sequencing. Good stuff!” (Read the full review.)
“In this fascinating book readers will learn about all cocoa trees and they will come to realize that these trees depend on an intricate little ecosystem that is inhabited by insects, reptiles, monkeys and other creatures…. The authors provide readers with further information about cocoa trees and rainforests, and they tell readers what they can do to help protect rain forests. An author’s note also explains how the authors came to write this book.” (Read the full review.)
Through the Looking Glass
“This is a fascinating look at the complexities of something that many of us take for granted…. enticing both in its premise and its execution. The art has a wonderful lightness to it that fits the subject particularly well. The clever little bookworms add a whimsical note to the entire book with their ballooned speech bubbles, ballcap, flower and skirt. A winner of a nonfiction picture book, this is one sweet addition to any library.” (Read the full review.)
Waking Brain Cells
No Monkeys, No Chocolate
by Melissa Stewart
and Allen Young
illus by Steve Jenkins
Charlesbridge, 2013
for ages 5-8
ISBN 978-1-58089-287-2
Purchase this book at your local independent bookseller or
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