The eternal temptation of Netgalley is a lifelong problem that I wrestle with, and one of the hardest things is not to scoop up middle grade books as fast as I can. I want to read aaaaaallllllll of them with my eight-year-old, but he is picky enough that I'm hesitant to commit to an ARC with him.
But I could not just walk by The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, by Stephanie Burgis. It's about a dragon who gets turned into a human girl and decides to be a chocolatier. I love that you can wrap it up with that unlikely one-liner, but that doesn't come anywhere near capturing the charm of this book.
Aventurine is a dragon who is tired of staying in the cave all day, but is too young to go out on her own. She's not a scholar like her siblings, and her mother and grandfather are frustrated that she seems so directionless. But she is the stubborn kind of young dragon who will sneak out of the cave to prove her mettle--and run headlong into a mage with a sharp sense of self-preservation.
Trapped in a human body with no way to get home, Aventurine heads to Drachenburg, the nearest human city, to try to make her way. She does not understand humans, and her confusion and frustration with them had my son laughing. As a human, Aventurine discovers chocolate and realizes that she knows exactly what she wants to do with her (new human) life.
Enter the cast of secondary characters, who are, I have to say, the best. There is her first friend, Silke, who is clever and unconventional and knows the city intimately. Marina, the cranky, stubborn chocolatier who runs a second-rate chocolate house that should be the best one in the city; Horst, who runs it with her and is somewhat less cranky and stubborn. We get glimpses of the king and the two princesses, who are different from each other and the most well-rounded tertiary characters I might have ever seen. We even get to know Aventurine's family over the course of the book--proud, ambitious dragons who know exactly what they think of humans.
Every character here is individual, and they get to do clever things and surprise us. You could rewrite this story from anyone's point of view, even the people who hardly appear in it, and you'd have a fine tale. I love that Aventurine is cranky and blunt and rather dismissive of humans, but learns to value them even as she learns her own true worth. I love how her bluster at the beginning gives way to humility and then real competence. I love that however human she is, she is still always ready to roar.
We got such a kick out of this book, Adam and I. It was a great readaloud, and a real pleasure. I have one of Stephanie Burgis's adult novels on my kindle, and you can bet that's coming up in the rotation very soon.