A dragon might have a passion for gold or jewels or for eating people . . . but for chocolate? That’s the premise of Stephanie Burgis’ whimsical middle-grade novel “The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart.” In Burgis’ imaginative world, dragons are interested in all sorts of things — philosophy and poetry as well as jewelry. But a young dragon named Aventurine has yet to find her passion, and she routinely exasperates her family by neglecting her education and her duties, and longing for experiences she’s not yet ready to handle.
Determined to prove herself, Aventurine sneaks out of her family’s cave and into the wider world . . . only to be tricked into drinking magical hot chocolate and turned into a human, that most despised of creatures. And that attitude is at first justified when she is treated badly by the first humans she meets. But the horrifying change is redeemed by one thing: She’s discovered chocolate, and now she knows what her passion is.
With help from an odd new friend named Silke, Aventurine makes her way through the bewildering human city and gets herself an apprenticeship at a chocolate house. Though she doesn’t know it yet, her new gift will help determine the fates not only of her new human friends, but also of her dragon family.
“The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart” will resonate with any young reader who’s ever wanted to grow up too fast, or has envied a mature older sibling, or has longed to find a purpose — in other words, with a wide variety of young readers. Aventurine is determined to be as strong, fierce, and competent as the rest of her family, but it takes her a while to find her own kind of strength. At first, Aventurine’s incessantly petulant tone can be a little wearing, but it does fade eventually, especially when she’s forced to learn that no one can be strong and competent all the time. A serious failure at a crucial moment teaches her that lesson.
Fortunately, her sharp-tongued but wise mentor, Marina, is able to teach her that everyone fails sometimes, and that the important thing is to learn how to start over again. At the same time, Silke’s loyal friendship is teaching her to like and trust the species that she once disdained but now has to be part of.
In Burgis’ fantasy world, there’s no mention of religion, and only a bit of non-graphic violence (mostly fighting between dragon siblings). She tailors her story well to her middle-school audience, with no sexuality and no profanity.
Parents and kids alike should appreciate and enjoy “The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart.” Just be careful with it, because it will make you ferociously hungry for chocolate.
Image courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Publishing. Review copy obtained from the reviewer’s local library.