The Chocolate Touch and Chocolate Fever-A Book Review
I love chocolate, in fact I am one of the best-holicsholics you could be around. A chocoholic-which is a term of endearment to describe someone who loves chocolate, and is not picky about the kind of dessert recipes it offers. Though you have to remember, it’s not a very healthy or nutritional kind of food to ingest, it is not as bad as saying getting loaded off Captain Morgan one night and drunk dialing an old ex of yours. But we make do with what life gives us.
But, instead of dealing with drunk dials to friends and exes at 3 in the morning, chocoholics usually deal with getting diabetes. Now, today we are looking at two stories that seem to be so similar you would think they were written by the same author. Or the plots switched back and forth. And these books I am talking about are as follows: “The Chocolate Touch” by Patrick Skene Catling and “Chocolate Fever” by Robert Kimmel Smith.
It’s interesting to note how the two main characters both are young average boys that are only defined by their love of chocolate and candy. Both boys who are named John Midas and Henry Green, the main characters in both of their respective stories. In fact, when I looked back on remembering these books, I got both story lines mixed up, thinking that “The Chocolate Touch” had “Chocolate Fever”‘s plot and vice versa. Lets look at both books and untangle the differences, shall we?
The Chocolate Touch
The general plot line here, is essentially the modernized (or as modernized as 1950s-1970s can give us) child-friendly retelling of the legend of King Midas. Hence, the main character’s last name. Which interestingly enough, is never really brought up even as a throw away joke. The boy has an almost unhealthy obsession with candy, not only eating it over other kind of food but not sharing it with any of his other friends. This book goes hand in hand as not only a lesson about healthy eating, but about selfishness. Right away, you pick up on the moral of the story immediately, although it still happens to be revealed in the back of the book like most moral stories tend to do. The boy’s desire is not lost on the parents, which in a way that differentiates the two stories, the parents are more aggressive in trying to halt their son’s consumption of sweets whereas the other parents seem to take a lackadaisical approach from what it looks like. John’s family become concern when at the dinner table that morning, they discover small dots (which are not explained other than a possibly sign of malnutrition) which prompts them to take him to see the doctor. Dr. Cranium.
So wait, are they going by Comic book logic that the name you are born with automatically determines your career?
The parent attempts to make John Midas eat healthier foods and less chocolate are well-intentioned, by don’t do much good through no fault of their own we learn, as like with any kid, John finds a way to work around their rules. Which bites him back in the butt when he has to swallow down some nasty-tasting vitamin tonic. Hah, that will show him!
The story continues when John finds a coin with a picture of fat kid on one side and the initials J.M on the other. The boy hangs on to it and comes across a candy shop which looks as if it was one of those “It just opened across the street” kind of deals. Adding to an air of mystery and little bit of suspense to entice the impressionable young child-reader. Even more stranger is when the store owner automatically know about John and that the candy he wants to buy is the “exact same currency” as the coin that the boy is holding-making all the pieces fall into place like some big conveniently laced conspiracy to get John Midas to learn a lesson. Though I couldn’t help thinking as I read this how awkward it would have been if another kid entered the store and while standing there with his cash on hand to make a purchase, he sees John Midas and the store owners transaction and gets a tad ticked off that he realizes his cash is no good there. Good as a Aesop McGuffin perhaps, but probably not a good idea in the local business sense. Anyway, the kid buys a box of chocolates from the man with the coin (and no receipt) and goes home to nom on them.
Now if you know the story of King Midas, this is the part where our main character starts to develop the infamous touch that starts to turn his world upside down. At first he enjoys everything he touches turning to chocolate and devouring it (including fluoride flavored chocolate when he tries brushing his teeth) but then it starts causing more trouble for him later on in the chapters. Each detailing the trouble he gets in with his friends, at home, at school, and finally with his own family. As the final straw is when he tries to console his grieving mother and she turns into a chocolate statue kissing her on the cheek. Realizing all this happened the moment he found the coin and brought the chocolate boxes.
John runs to the store where he finds him to confront the old man. Who explains to him he was doing this to teach John Midas a lesson, one which understandably he takes it upon himself to basically tell John flat-out to his face, seeing how John is too busy freaking out to even think straight. The storekeeper tells John Midas, that his greed and selfishness for candy was what made him find the coin in the first place as it only can be seen by those are greedy. And the store and the coin, in all it’s magical whimsy, was nothing more than karmic punishment made to teach John Midas a lesson. As well as any other kid that has some problem that can be solved with a magic coin and some old man acting as the curator of Divine Judgement apparently.
Of course, John runs home to find his mother and everything he touched turned back to normal and as everything was before he had his chocolate touch. We are not told what the reaction was of those who personal property John Midas may have previously ruined by turning them into chocolate. But I think we know that when John gets older and gets invited to a party that serves chocolate, I imagine he is going to have one heck of a confectionery PTSD.
This story details Henry Green, who has the same situation as John Midas, but other candy is not involved at this point. He is huge chocoholic as well, but his family seem to be….Strangely easy-going in this department.
In the story, they make no qualm, or concern about Henry Green’s chocolate habit. Not even a gagging sound when in the book it is implied that he goes as far as to put chocolate sauce on his mashed potatoes instead of gravy. His sister calls him a “chocolate freak” and his parents fill the cabinets with every kind of brand and flavored chocolate imaginable. Comparatively to “The Chocolate Touch” this kid’s behavior feels a tad encouraged, whereas the parents were going out of their way to angle their son’s candy addiction. The main plot point/conflict of the story, is that the “little brown spots” that show up on Henry Green are used in the story more effectively than John Midas’s condition, in which the spots are a motivation to take him to the doctor and start his chocolate journey of self-discovery, but are never brought up again in the rest of the chapters. Probably written off as a condition of malnutrition.
In school, Henry Green, notices these strange brown spots on him and the teacher worried it might be something serious takes him to the nurses office thinking they are either measles, scarlet fever, or the chicken pox. As these spots increase the teacher and school nurse immediately take the boy to the hospital. Which makes one beg the question of did anyone think to call the parents and tell them where they were taking their kid?
Yeah, this becomes worrisome later on in the chapters as we will see later.
The spots become more of a focal point. As instead of being tormented by alienating his friends and family with a sweet-tooth ability, Henry Green hits a sense of low self-esteem and damaged dignity as the brown spots cover his body and he emit’s a chocolate-scented body order which some of the minor characters comment about, only in the form of someone asking if they’re drinking chocolate milk or having a snack.
Also the spots make a loud “popping” sound for some reason, which to the book’s credit, actually doesn’t play it straight and in fact, points out that spots popping like a cork screw (that is how the school nurse describes the noise btw) as extremely unusual to the point that it’s unnerving. The condition is a new discovery in the medical community and gains the attention of the press, calling it a highly dangerous and mysterious disease which shatters Henry Green’s happy little world and thinks of himself as a weirdo and freak, unable to take it anymore, he runs away from the hospital and wanders around the city (seriously, did anyone think about calling the parents?) until he comes across a large cargo truck and hides in the backseat. He is found by Mack, a truck driver who luckily for Henry Green is the not the creepy “driving out all alone at night does things to a man’s psyche while picking up underage hitchhiker on the side” type and shares a sandwich with him, more concerned out of the kindness of his heart to take the boy back home to his parents (who are probably tearing the city apart looking for their kid!) then being weirded out about the child’s appearance or concern if the spots are contagious at all. Henry, grateful for Mack’s generosity agrees to let the truck driver take him home.
UNTIL MUGGERS JUMP OUT OF THE BUSHES! OH NOES!
Yeah, two robbers hold Mack and Henry Green hostage playing to take whatever is in the back of the truck to sell for money. Thinking its expensive furs when really its full of candy bars. Coincidence, I think not.
The robbers don’t let them go nor do they ditch their idea and take them back to their hideout. Their plans are thwarted, when people’s dogs (lured by the smell of Henry’s chocolate body order) surround the place barking so loudly outside, one of the robbers opens the door and the dogs ambush them, this distraction causes Mack to break free of his ropes and tackle then tie up the robbers. The dogs lead their owners into the hideout thus having the robbers turned in by the police. There is a scene in which may cause a lot of real-life dog owners today to probably shake their heads and think to themselves, “yeah that is a bad idea” and that is the dogs running up and licking the boy’s face; mind you, smelling of chocolate, but has a skin condition which for all we know, might secrete something akin to chocolate if the spots emit a cocoa odor from his pores. So having those little doggies licking the boy’s face would almost be a death sentence ready to happen. Granted, this was written and published probably beFore they discovered the affect chocolate has on a dog’s system. But still it is one of those moments even in a kid’s book that does make you shake your head and chuckle.
Someone does the smart thing and finally contacts Henry’s parents who are relieved to find him safe and sound, before Mack drops Henry off though, they stop by his distributor and unloads the candy to a candy store owner (described in a more corporate office than the “Mom and Pa shop” from the other story) who he introduces Henry to as Alfred “Sugar” King. Who ends up being the guy that cures Henry, but gives him his lesson as well.
Note: The two stories mirror each other, as both “chocolate conflicts” are only solved by the victim learning a lesson and having it revealed to them. Chocolate Fever, I feel, did a more subtle job of Henry figuring it out himself with a little gentle encouragement from Mr. King. Compared to the lesson being learned at the end in The Chocolate Touch.
Henry, in this story, learns that it’s okay to love things and enjoy them daily. As that is what life is but not to make the best out of the goodness it offers, but too much becomes overwhelming and sometimes we must be sparingly with what we indulge in the most otherwise we become spoiled and hedonistic. Instead of being straight out told this, Mr. Alfred King gives Henry the old “And that young man was me” story, revealing a box of…
So wait, then this chocolate disease is real in this story’s verse? It was evident that Henry was not the only victim, and chocolate is a largely consumable substance. If there is indication that this disease may very well exist, why is Mr. King keeping the cure for himself?
And does it work vice-versa?
If you had a Vanilla Fever, would chocolate pills be a counteract cure to stave it off?
Just one of the many questions that goes through an inquisitive child’s imagination that will not be solved. Or at least, solved in the book however, as the story wraps up with a happy ending: Henry returns home cured of his karmic chocolate disease, and he learns a lesson. Perhaps, as the parents still off him chocolate, though he turns to cinnamon instead. Another vicious cycle continues?
We will never know
Review and Afterthoughts
Both books as you will obviously notice, rely on the use of chocolate to convey their messages across to children to teach them about the values of selflessness and the downsize to overindulgence in anything that takes the place of real life people and activities. Mostly because chocolate is a widely popular type of treat that is introduced early on to most anyone as a child, and depending on circumstances health-wise, still carry on to adulthood, as they have a lot of versatile resources we have come to love about them. We use them in recipes, as a token of love to others, and as stress-relief.
Children learn about good social skills involving sharing, as well as give-and-take when they have candy on hand. In fact, the first things we tell our kids when they have bags of candy other than “Don’t eat it before supper or you’ll spoil your appetite” is not to eat all of it at once, else you get a stomach ache and to share with their friends and siblings. So naturally, having a book with these morals be about chocolate is understandable and makes sense. But, you still can’t help but feel the similarities outweigh the differences in the story. It wouldn’t be surprising that someone would get the two mixed up by accident.
Both main characters, the boys, really are nothing interesting. Kids can relate to them as being normal kids much like themselves who have a bit of a sweet tooth. But they would be perhaps interested in the situation they are put through, and how they come out of it. Chocolate Fever is more simplified as it is written for younger kids in mind, but is more subtle and realistic in how the child learns its lesson, while for older kids, The Chocolate Touch does come off as having the lesson a bit more contrived and bashes the reader on the head. But still, it gets the job done and the kid at the end of The Chocolate Touch does feel as if he has grown up a little and really had the lesson effect him. Where as subtle as it is with Chocolate Fever, and it does feel refreshing and enlightening to have Henry figure it out himself, you cant help but wonder if maybe the lesson for him will truly stick better to John Midas than it did with Henry Green.
And now if you excuse me, all this talk of chocolate is making me hungry.