CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 8 . . . . December 7, 2007
Maggie and the Chocolate War is set in British Columbia during the economically vulnerable postwar era. World War II ended two years earlier, but food prices keep going up and families are struggling to put food on the table. Maggie unexpectedly finds herself dealing with these adult issues when the cost of chocolate bars jumps from five cents to eight cents, effectively ruining her plan to buy a chocolate bar as a gift for her best friend’s birthday. Emboldened by the sudden and dramatic increase in the price of chocolate, children in British Columbia, as in other provinces across Canada, organize themselves to demand a price reversal. They write letters, make signs, protest outside grocery stores, and even demonstrate at the provincial legislature. Maggie is conflicted because she realizes that these protests may hurt her father who is one of the store owners forced to sell chocolate at the new rate. Nevertheless, she joins the other children in protesting the rising cost of their favourite treat and learns about the privileges, rights and responsibilities of living in a free society.
At just 93 pages that are dotted with newspaper clippings and pictures of actual protesters, Maggie and the Chocolate War is a quick read. Michelle Mulder mixes fact with fiction in this book. The price of chocolate did indeed rise in 1947, and children across the country took to the streets in protest. The author uses this historical event to teach young readers that everyone – regardless of age or gender – can participate in public debate.
Mulder does a commendable job of describing the financial difficulties families faced in the early years after the Second World War and the resulting tensions that existed in households. However, the irony of this book is that, even though it is inspired by real events, the story, itself, does not always ring true. Maggie’s situation sometimes seems forced into the setting in order to tell about the actual events of 1947. Often the main character’s thoughts and conversations sound artificial and beyond those a child would articulate. The reader may often wonder how old Maggie and her friends are when they read some of the rather mature dialogue amidst the childish, but more realistic, spats and conflicts.
Unfortunately, Mulder doesn’t fully explore some aspects of the story, nor does she provide an adequate conclusion to all areas of the book. She fails to tell us much about the book’s most important figure - the chocolate. Given that so many other historical details are expertly provided, it is surprising that she tells us so little about the actual chocolate. What were the names of the popular candy bars? How did they taste and smell? With just a little prompting, most readers would likely sympathize with anyone who can no longer afford chocolate. Without these details, however, even the most addicted chocoholic would not care about this protest. The author also neglects to tell us how one of the subplots ends. Maggie is jealous that her best friend Jo will be spending the summer with a visiting cousin. While this is a big concern for Maggie and makes her desperate to buy a great birthday present for Jo, the issue of the visiting cousin is not satisfactorily concluded.
Maggie and the Chocolate War uses a snippet of history to show readers how everyone can participate in a free and democratic society. Mulder does a good job of weaving historical facts into the story and appropriately uses pictures and newspaper headlines to capture the reader’s attention. As such, this book can be used as a tool to teach children about public participation, democratic responsibilities, and Canadian history. Unfortunately Mulder is less successful at creating a believable character, and, therefore, the story, from an entertainment standpoint, disappoints.
Recommended with reservations.
Lori Giles-Smith is an Assistant Librarian at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.