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Monday, January 13, 2014

Interview: Melissa Stewart, Author of No Monkeys, No Chocolate

 Melissa Stewart is the author of many fantastic nonfiction books on topics ranging from deadly predators to earthquakes.  With her recent picture book, No Monkeys, No Chocolate, she takes readers to tropical rainforests, the very source of the chocolate we eat. If you like chocolate, you’ll love this book!  It even has wise-cracking bookworms that comment on everything. 

Thanks, Melissa, for speaking with us today about No Monkeys, No Chocolate.

Can you tell us about the process of writing this very kid-friendly text with a leading scientist?
Thanks so much for your kind words about No Monkeys, No Chocolate, Nancy. This book was 10 years in the making. I thought kids, teachers, and aspiring authors might be interested in the story behind the book, so I created a fun Interactive Timeline

Allen Young is the world’s leading expert cocoa growth and pollination. He didn’t actually do any of the writing, but he did provide key bits of information that I couldn’t get anywhere else. His knowledge was based on working with cocoa trees in the Costa Rican rain forest for more than 30 years.

The bookworm narration adds a wonderful dimension to the text. Was that fun to write?
I had a blast writing the bookworm dialog. The trick was to keep the exchanges short while also making them funny and packing them with information that reinforced the main text.

No Monkeys, No Chocolate is chock-full of great information. Did anything surprise you in your research?
There were so many surprises. Before I began working on this book, I had no idea that a tiny fly pollinates cocoa or that monkeys and a couple of other small mammals disperse their seeds.

I also learned lots of interesting information that didn’t make it into the book. There were many different candidates for the spots occupied by the anole lizard and the coffin flies. Each one had an interesting relationship to the tree responsible for our favorite dessert. In the end, I chose the coffin flies and their brain-eating maggots because they are just so gross and cool. I chose the lizard and aphids, as a tribute to the rose-slurping aphids that inspired me to write the book in the first place.

I’m sure teachers would love to add this to their library. Do you have any tips on how teachers can use No Monkeys, No Chocolate in their classroom?
Yes, I have a Teacher’s Guide, Readers Theater, and several activity sheets that go with the book. You can find them here.  Also, the book was featured on the ClassroomBookshelf blog, where three super-smart educators from Lesley University offer lots more ideas. They’ve even included some ideas for using the Interactive Timeline in the classroom.

What are you working on now?
My newest picture book,
Feathers: Not Just for Flying will be published in February, and I’m very excited about it. Illustrator Sarah S. Brannen did a fantastic job. Right now, I’m working on a video to go with the book. I’m also putting he final touches on the Teachers Guide and a Readers Theater that I think teachers will really like.

To learn more about Melissa and her books visit her
website  or her blog  You may also want to follow her on Twitter, @msterwartscience, or on Pinterest.

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