November 28, 2022

Cocoa Magic

Written by Sandra Bradley
Illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
November 2022

There is much kindness in giving gifts in secret, in not expecting thanks or acknowledgement. It's giving for the sake of giving and not for reciprocity or reward. With the holiday season upon us, Sandra Bradley's book of Cocoa Magic, deliciously illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard, reminds us of the goodness of giving.
From Cocoa Magic by Sandra Bradley, illus. by Gabrielle Grimard
Daniel's Great Uncle Lewis is known as the Cocoa King of Charlottetown. From a very young child, Daniel learned the magic that came from a cocoa bean when vanilla, sugar and milk were added. By the time he is eight, he is spending an hour crafting chocolate into treasures at his uncle's shop before he is delivered to school.
From Cocoa Magic by Sandra Bradley, illus. by Gabrielle Grimard

When a new girl, Sarah, arrives at school, looking a little hesitant, Daniel comes up with a plan to make her feel more welcome. The day after her arrival, he slips a gold box with a single chocolate caramel into her desk. Like magic, when she opens the little box, Sarah smiles for the first time. He repeats this for several days, with a luscious vanilla fudge, a coconut cream and a piece of nougat. And each day Sarah seems less scared and more cheerful.

Then Daniel notices Ben watching Sarah enjoy her treat and decides to surprise the boy too with some magic. Was it the chocolate that made Ben a little kinder that day? Everywhere Daniel looks, it seems someone needs to be touched by a little cocoa magic. With a tearful classmate and an injured boy and more, Daniel enlists his uncle's help in delivering little boxes to the whole class.
From Cocoa Magic by Sandra Bradley, illus. by Gabrielle Grimard
Then his uncle goes away to the World's Chocolatiers' Conference in Switzerland and must close the shop for five days. Daniel is devastated. He misses his uncle, working in the shop and he worries that without their secret chocolate gifts, the joy would disappear from his classmates. He's wrong. In fact, his classmates bring the magic to Daniel when he needs it.

What a wonderful story of empathy! Daniel understands Sarah's nervousness at attending a new school, one which he himself finds cold and lonely, and then sees what his other classmates are feeling. He sees their distresses and finds a way, his way, to make them feel better. Sandra Bradley, a clinical social worker and therapist, makes the story of Cocoa Magic one of kindness without expectation of reciprocity. She shows the positive nature of giving both on the recipient and the giver. It is only when children feel safe and secure that they can appreciate the emotional needs of others and Daniel, embraced in the warmth of his uncle and his chocolate shop, has the capacity for that empathy. But by showing empathy for his classmates, Daniel gives them the capacity to feel for others. That is magic in itself.
From endpapers of Cocoa Magic by Sandra Bradley, illus. by Gabrielle Grimard
Gabrielle Grimard's illustrations, created with watercolour, gouache, coloured pencil and digital media, are filled with the sweetness of love, kindness, generosity and confections. (The endpapers are filled with an assortment of confectionary delectables too!) Though Gabrielle Grimard transports readers to the 1920s when boys wore knickerbockers, school desks had lift-tops and inkwell holes, and a special treat didn't need to be expensive or extravagant, she makes Sandra Bradley's story contemporary enough that young readers will see themselves in the diverse students who feel fear, sadness, pain and especially joy. 

There may be magic in the cocoa and the sugar but most of it comes from the empathy demonstrated through the gift giving. Perhaps at this time of year, that's the important message to cherish from Cocoa Magic.


  1. This book sounds delightful, and of course, I have long adored Gabrielle Grimard's fairy-tale illustrations. Thanks for bringing "Cocoa Magic" to my attention, Helen!

  2. That was my comment up there, Helen. Happy holidays! - Monica Kulling

    1. Thanks for the comment, Monica. Lovely to hear from you. Best for the holidays!