Do You Speak Chocolate?
Written by Cas Lester
Published by: Piccadlly Press
Publication date: 24th August 2017
Age range: 8+
Summary (from Goodreads):
A story of friendship, laughter … and more than a little chocolate
‘Do you speak chocolate?’ Jaz has found the best way to make friends with new girl Nadima, who doesn’t speak any English – by offering her a chocolate bar. Nadima grins and offers back some Turkish Delight, the ice is broken, and a special friendship begins …
Jaz is outgoing, rebellious, gumptious and a little bit bolshy – but it doesn’t stop her from finding it hard that she doesn’t have a best friend at school any more. Not since Lily went off with Kara … She’s not one to get down about things, though – and things start to look up when Nadima comes into their classroom. Before long the girls are firm friends, even when Nadima, recently arrived from Syria, can’t speak much English. The path of true friendship doesn’t run smooth, though … Jaz, ever the entrepreneur, cooks up a plan to sell Turkish Delight at school, with disastrous results. A drama project with Nadima about family history proves impossible to manage. And Charity Challenge Week puts the icing on the cake as Jaz puts every foot wrong possible. Can she find a way to put things right, and restore the wonderful and unique friendship that she has with Nadima?
In a story of friendship, family and entrepreneurial wizardry, Cas Lester deftly navigates the trials and tribulations of girlhood, and examines with the lightest of touches and gentle humour the thorny and compelling issues of integration, belonging and identity.
Soon I was the only one left with Nadima.
There was a horrible long silence where we both looked sheepishly at each other.
‘Um…Parlez-vouz francais?’ I said. Nadima just looked at me.
‘Er…Deutsch?’ I tried.
She frowned. I took that as a no. Just as well, really, since I don’t speak French or German anyway.
There was another, even more awkward silence.
Then, in a moment of brilliant inspiration, if I say so myself, I dug into my bag and took out a bar of chocolate, broke off a bit and offered it to Nadima.
‘Do you speak chocolate?’ I said.
Funny, cute and heartfelt, this story followed Jaz as she tries to make friends with Nadima, a young girl who has just arrived from Syria with her family and does not yet speak much English. Smiles, chocolate, mime and emojis pave the way to building a friendship!
I think this would be a great book to share with your child or for teachers to share in school as it addresses some of the common misconceptions that children might have about refugees and immigration. In particular, Jaz putting her foot in her mouth multiple times despite her good intentions might make readers think more carefully about the assumptions they are making.
As an adult reader I found Jaz’s voice authentically immature, although the repeated reliance on certain slang terms was a bit grating. I liked that she talked about the challenges dyslexia caused her, yet focused on the positives such as how many famous people have been dyslexic and the way she can do certain things better rather than just one thing worse than others.
I did find her English teacher’s attitude unrealistic (as a teacher myself!) – we are professionals, we don’t pick on individuals and would certainly not seek to embarrass a child who struggles with spelling and reading aloud by forcing them to read aloud in front of the class and putting sad faces all over their work! I get tired of seeing teachers as bullies in books – authors, please stop doing this! They may exist but they are the exception, not the rule.
I liked Jaz’s relationship with her mum and brothers and how the negotiation of friendships was shown between the children in the class. I liked how Nadima’s family situation was revealed gradually, without sensationalism and the discussions Jaz and her family had about it.
Overall, an interesting and topical middle-grade book, well worth reading and sharing.
Mum always says that when we were little kids we could sleep anywhere – and through any amount of noise.
‘Bombproof,’ she used to joke.
But little kids aren’t bombproof.
People aren’t bombproof.
Nadima’s aunts and uncles and cousins were not bombproof.
What I liked: The subject matter, Jaz’s determination to make friends, Jaz talking positively about having dyslexia, the strong family relationships, the discussions surrounding being a refugee.
Even better if: Found Jaz’s insensitivity (despite good intentions) and relentless use of certain slang quite grating. Also, dislike teachers being depicted as bullies.
How you could use it in your classroom: Would be useful to start a discussion about refugees and immigration, particularly as so many children in your classroom will have seen the media reports or might have a personal connection to the countries being discussed. Would also be useful to challenge some stereotypes and address some misconceptions children might have e.g. treating refugees as charity cases.
(Thank you to my wonderful library for having a copy on your shelves!)