The Classroom Bookshelf
Inside The Classroom Bookshelf

No Monkeys, No Chocolate

Written by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young
Illustrated by Nicole Wong
Published by Charlesbridge
ISBN 978-1-58089-287-2
Grades 2 and Up
Book Review
No monkeys no chocolate? What exactly do monkeys have to do with chocolate? Curious readers will have to be patient, as the answer is at the end of this reverse cumulative nonfiction narrative. Milk chocolate-colored end pages move us from the image of a monkey holding a cocoa pod on the cover, to the title page in which a split cocoa pod is revealed. Stewart hooks readers with a title that prompts inquiry, and then connects readers with their prior knowledge and interest: chocolate’s role in desserts and tasty treats. Next, she moves into the process by which cocoa beans are processed, and then further back to where and how they grow, and the interrelationships within the rainforest that make it happen. Each section is introduced with a repetitive phrase, reinforcing the complex interdependence of cocoa trees, maggots, lizards, fungi, and monkeys in clear and manageable doses. At the bottom right-hand corner of each two spread are two “bookworms,” whose comical banter provides a recap of the main idea of the spread, another way to reinforce comprehension of the complexity of the rainforest ecosystem. No Monkeys, No Chocolate makes for a great read aloud, and provides a marvelous introduction to cocoa, life cycles, the rain forest, and the concept of interdependence in nature.  Given all that must take place for a cocoa pod to produce seeds, readers may wonder that chocolate is in such abundance at grocery stores or mini-marts.
Teaching Ideas & Invitations
·      Word Choice. Throughout the book, Stewart refers to cocoa pods and cocoa beans. So why is it that on the Library of Congress page in the back of the book, the subject headings read “Cacao” and “Cacao beans?” Is it cocoa or cacao? Why the difference in terminology? Explore the history of the words cacao and cocoa using some of the digital resources listed below.
·      Uniqueness of Cacao Trees. The cacao tree depends on a range of animals and insects to ensure its survival. Is this unique? In small groups, have students research fruit trees that grow in your community, and compare and contrast the life cycle of local trees with the cacao tree. Students can create a class mural, comparison and contrast charts, 3-D sculptures of trees, or podcast. 
·      Wise Guys. Ask your students to explain what role the bookworms play in the narrative. How do they help readers better understand the book? Have students discuss the text as well as the Author’s Note in the back. What was the author’s intention in placing the bookworms in the text? Who are Statler and Waldorf? Have students watch a couple of clips from the Muppet show, and see what similarities they find. Can they think of other books, movies, or television shows in which funny sidekicks help to explain the story to the audience while providing humor as well?  Students may want to create Statler and Waldorf-like characters for their own nonfiction.
·      So What Are These Creatures?Within the narrative, we learn about midges, coffin flies, leaf-cutter ants, aphids, lizards, and monkeys. Have students in small groups research these other creatures, upon whom we are dependent for chocolate. What kind of monkeys are they? If you are using this book to research other animals in the rain forest, and learn more about other interrelationships between plants and animals, start with two-page spread on the second title page. Butterflies, a frog, scarlet macaws, toucan, and an alligator all appear in the rain forest. What role do they have in the ecosystem? Do they have any interactions with the aphids, ants, or monkeys?
·      Rain Forest Destruction. No rain forest, no chocolate! In the author’s note, Melissa Stewart tells us that over 40% of the world’s tropical rain forests have been destroyed in the past 30 years. What will happen if the destruction continues at this rapid pace? Have students research current efforts at reforestation and what they can do to help. Start with the “What You Can Do to Help” page, and then research more specific organizations that are preserving the rain forest. Students might want to peruse some of the chocolate companies listed below to compare and contrast how they purchase their cocoa.
·      What’s in Your Chocolate? Should your school permit, conduct a chocolate tasting using a range of companies and chocolate bars with a range of cacao content, from milk chocolate to 85% cacao. Have students do a blind taste test of a variety of chocolates, and then have them in small groups comparing the different labels. Which did they like the best? Which has the most nutritional power? Which has the most cacao? Which has the most sugar? Which has the fewest ingredients? Have each group create a graph that provides a snapshot of this information, and have groups report out in order to compare and contrast how they shared their information.
Grades 6-8
·      Revising Nonfiction. On her webpage, Melissa Stewart provides an interactive digital timeline for the research, writing, and revision of No Monkeys, No Chocolate. After reading the picture book either aloud or in small groups, have students explore the timeline individually or in pairs, reading the initial manuscripts and viewing Melissa’s video clips along the way. What do they notice changing in the manuscript? What was “wrong” with the first manuscript? How does this timeline demonstrate that revision isn’t about “correcting” mistakes, but rather, framing and reframing an idea until it works for your intended audience? You may then want to use the book as a mentor text for student writing about another plant and its interrelationships. Or, simply refer to this as a “touchstone text” for nonfiction writing that involves multiple revisions of the structure of the text in order to capture the essence of the big idea in a way that will appeal to the intended audience.
·      Fair Trade vs. Bean-to-Bar Production. In the author’s note, Melissa Stewart discusses some of the challenges of growing cocao trees on plantations, as opposed to in the shaded of the rain forest. Have students do some research on the benefits of shade farming and the destruction of the rain forest, including some of the digital resources below. Have students explore the websites for different chocolate companies, too. How do they purchase cacao? What is valuable about the fair trade label? Are bean-to-bar products better for the environment? For people? Both? Have students reflect on how this research impacts their own thoughts on which chocolate they buy, and why. Is fair trade or bean-to-bar chocolate even an option where you live?
Critical Literacy
·      Packaging Chocolate. Have students explore how different chocolate companies present themselves online. When students hit the “landing page” for each company, what do they see? What images appear?  How does Hershey discuss its cacao purchasing versus smaller companies? What is the marketing “story” of each of these chocolate companies? Do some companies seem to use the fair trade label as a marketing tool? Is there anything wrong with that? Make sure to include a local chocolate manufacturer, even if it is a small business, in our comparison. Have students draw some conclusions about their comparison and contrast of the different messages presented by different companies.
Further Explorations
Digital Resources
Melissa Stewart’s Official Webpage
Smithsonian Magazine, “A Brief History of Chocolate”
 NPR “How Chocolate Can Save the Planet”
NPR “Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Makers”
New York Times, “When Chocolate is a Way of Life”
American Museum of Natural History on Chocolate
Chocolate Traveling Exhibit from the Field Museum
Equal Exchange Chocolate and Cocoa
Endangered Species Chocolate
Hershey’s Chocolate
Rainforest Alliance
The International Cocoa Organization
Statler and Waldorf Video Clips
Burleigh, R. (2002). Chocolate: Riches from the rain forest. New York: H. Abrams.
Butterworth, Christine. (2011). How did that get in my lunchbox? The story of food. Ill. by L. Gaggiotti. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
Price, S. (2009). The story behind chocolate. Portsmouth, NH: Heineman.
Sayre, A.P. (2010). Meet the howlers. Ill. by W. Miller. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.
Serafini, F. (2010). Looking closely in the rain forest. Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press.
Simon, S. (2010). Tropical rainforests. New York: Smithsonian/Harper Collins.
Mary Ann Cappiello About Mary Ann Cappiello

Mary Ann is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former public school language arts and humanities teacher, she is a passionate advocate for and commentator on children’s books. Mary Ann is the co-author of Teaching with Text Sets (2013) and Teaching to Complexity (2015) and Text Sets in Action: Pathways Through Content Area Literacy (Stenhouse, 2021). She has been a guest on public radio and a consultant to public television. From 2015-2018, Mary Ann was a member of the National Council of Teachers of English's Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction (K-8) Committee, serving two years as chair.


  1. Welcome back!! I share your blog with teachers and friends with small children, and use your recommendations to get gifts for the kids in my life!