Does it get much better than dragons and chocolate?
The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis. Bloomsbury, 2017.
Aventurine is a young dragon bored of staying in the caves. Young dragons are expected to stay in their caves until their scales harden, spending their time on deepening their studies and hobbies. “It’s safer not to talk to your food” is what her grandfather always said, part of the deeply entrenched prejudice against humans. But Aventurine wants to see the world. She sneaks out, only to run into a food mage, who makes an irresistible-smelling drink for her. It turns out to be enchanted hot chocolate. Before she knows what has happened, she’s been turned into a small, pale, squishy human herself – with a burning desire for more chocolate.
As she makes her way down the mountain into the Austrian-inspired city, it soon becomes clear that she’s massively unprepared for life as a human. There are those who’d like to exploit, many chocolatiers who don’t want to hire her – and one friendly, city-wandering, Afro-wearing girl named Silke who takes it upon herself to help Aventurine find the clothes she needs and the job she wants. Aventurine is able at last to find a job at the small, struggling chocolate shop called the Chocolate Heart. But will her new knowledge of chocolate help when her family comes looking for her?
I loved Aventurine so very much, including her prickliness, her dedication to her passion, and her difficulty in learning when to try to fit in with humans and when to just be her dragon self, which showed up in small things like her preferences for colors that humans considered garish and in larger things like dealing with relationships. The world building is also solid, recognizably European, but without the cross-cultural migration whitewashed out of the story. There are lots of characters of color here, from mixed-race princesses to the owner and chef at the Chocolate Heart, and Silke, who will star in the next book in this world, The Girl with the Dragon Heart. I can’t wait to read it! I’m also looking forward to reading Katie O’Neill’s upcoming Tea Dragon Society graphic novel. And though I read this book from the library, I’m feeling a need for my own copy, for easier reading aloud to offspring.
This book has been nominated for the Cybils award. This review reflects my own personal opinion, not that of the committee.