Sweet!: The Delicious Story of Candy
By Ann Love and Jane Drake; Illustrated by Claudia Davila
Tundra Books; $14.99, 64 pp. softcover publication April 14th, 2009 (hardcover © 2007)
Some might say that a book about candy, with kids as the target market, could be a little off-base in this era of childhood obesity and early onset diabetes. But a childhood without candy is a sad one indeed, and authors Ann Love and Jane Drake spend most of their book looking at the history of candy over the course of 8000 years rather than encouraging their readers to run out and stuff their faces.
Geared to a readership between the ages of 9 and 12, Sweet could also skew younger if it was read with an adult to explain the more detailed passages, but would also make decent reading for teens and even adults. I have a personal library full of books on the history of candy and chocolate, and the authors managed to include more than a few facts and stories of which I was unaware. Fun cartoon-like illustrations by Claudia Davila definitely make it clear that this is a children’s book, but cartoon interpretations of such candy icons as Milton Hershey will amuse adults as well.
Throughout the book, the authors have included a timeline of candy history starting in 6000 BC that includes such facts as the first use of sugarcane and honey, the discovery of South America – and chocolate – by the Spanish, the creation of the first candy hearts and more, right up to present day.
The main part of the book includes chapters on “primal” sweets (honey, nuts, maple syrup); sugarcandy including plantations, production, ice cream, penny candy and a recipe for fudge; and chocolate, from the Aztecs love of chocolate, to how chocolate is processed, right up to present-day chocolatiers such as Hershey and Daniel of Vancouver. The final brief chapter touches on packaging and the magic of a local candy store.
Each topic is dealt with in a two-page spread to allow easy understanding of the subject and encourage discussion and further research. Love and Drake keep things multi-cultural as well, with a map of the world that points out the favourite sweet treats of children in major countries as well as the inclusion of treats like Indian mithai (milk sweets similar to fudge) or the invention of lozenges by the Arabs.
Love and Drake touch upon issues of slavery, both with sugar and chocolate, and manage to do so in a way that neither romanticizes or glosses over the facts. They don’t go into great detail, but they don’t ignore the elephant in the room either, which allows parents to initiate a discussion with their kids if they feel it’s appropriate. They also mention the issues of sugar cravings, as well as briefly (and subtly) addressing candy’s empty calories and lack of nutrients, but it’s done in a fun and non-judgmental way, which again allows parents to steer the topic to more serious concerns if they choose to do so.
The voice and tone of each topic changes slightly, switching from third person voice for the more historical sections to second person for current topics. I’m assuming this is probably how the authors split the writing, but it’s the one thing about the book that annoys me, as the sections done in second person voice that speak directly to the reader are slightly condescending and make the book seem as if it’s geared for a younger audience, while the parts written in the third person voice that generally deal with more factual topics (Milton Hershey or the many claims to the invention of the ice cream cone, for instance) are what allow Sweet to have adult appeal as well. I don’t have kids, and as such, don’t read a lot of kids’ books, but found this one quirk to be disconcerting, as it really interrupted the flow of the book for me.
However, overall, Sweet is a fun, informative read that takes 8000 years of information and condenses it well, and in a way that makes both food and history an interesting subject. For parents looking for something different from the same old March break stuff, Sweet could be the start of a fun list of activities; read the book with your kids, make the fudge from the recipe included in the book, and then maybe tour the Redpath sugar factory or visit a local chocolatier such as Soma to see how chocolate is made. Fun for the whole family, because as Sweet makes clear, candy isn’t just for kids.