Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Chocolate Touch

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By Patrick Skene Catling, Margot Apple
Illustrated by Margot Apple
Edition: illustrated
Published by HarperCollins, 1979
ISBN 0688321879, 9780688321871
128 pages


John Midas is a very greedy young boy who only loves to eat candy, especially chocolate. His parents keep trying to get him to eat healthy meals, but all he wants to eat is chocolate, to the point where he must take nightly doses of a vitamin elixir to keep nourished. John's doctor orders that John not eat any more chocolate, which is enforced by his parents, much to John's chagrin who has to find a way to clandestinely continue eating chocolate. One day, John happens across an unusual coin, lying on the sidewalk. About the size of a quarter, one face depicts an overweight boy, and the other is inscribed with his initials, "J.M." Shortly thereafter, he encounters a candy store he has never seen before, which is further mysterious considering the owner knows John's name immediately and claims that the strange coin is the only kind of money he accepts. John uses the coin to purchase a large box of chocolates. That night, in bed, John opens the box to dejectedly discover that it contains only one small chocolate ball, with an exquisite flavor. The next morning, John discovers that anything he touches magically transforms into chocolate!

What starts out as a dream come true quickly becomes uncomfortable, as John becomes thirstier and thirstier, sicker and sicker, and begins longing for the good, wholesome foods his parents always wanted him to eat. His condition also causes problems in other ways, as his mouth transforms a trumpet into chocolate, and a party game of apple bobbing results in all the children being awash in chocolate syrup. Eventually John complains of the condition to his father, who take him to the family doctor, where his condition is revealed, although the doctor thinks it is some rare disease. Discomfort turns to nightmare, as John tries to console his weeping mother with a kiss, only to turn her into a chocolate statue. Finally considering someone else's good above his own, John tracks down the candy shop owner, and selflessly tries to set things right. The store owner reveals that the coin John used can only be seen by greedy men, and if John is truly repentant of his greed and gluttony then everything he transformed into chocolate will be reverted to their original forms, and nobody will have any memory of John's chocolate transforming ability, which will also be reversed. The mystery of the shop is unexplained that in the ending, when John as part of his reformed self, feels he should be grateful to the store owner for undoing all of John's damage, runs back to the candy shop only to find an empty lot where the store once stood, though it is highly possible that he cannot see it due to him overcoming his greediness.


The Chocolate Touch covers roughly the same narrative arc as the myth of King Midas, but in changing the object of its protagonist's desire, modifies its target in significant ways. The myth of King Midas, who loved gold above all things, targets greed as its main theme, while The Chocolate Touch highlights another of the Seven Deadly Sins, gluttony. Both stories deal with self-centeredness vs. compassion, though The Chocolate Touch does so in a manner accessible to children. Although John's self-centeredness is unlike most other cases of self-centerdness that put other people at a disadvantage; in John's case he wants his family to stop telling him what he can and cannot eat. Towards the end of the story John comes to realize that his parents' and doctor's demand for healthy eating was for his own good. While people reading the myth of King Midas may not all have daughters of their own, almost all have mothers. In recasting the Midas story with a younger protagonist, author Catling hits on some of children's worst fears, albeit with a light touch.


The Chocolate Touch is still in print, and is often used in grade school curricula throughout the United States.[1][2] It won the Massachusetts Children's Book Award[3] in 1989, the Utah Children's Choice Honors Award in 1983[4], and the Beehive Award[5] from the Children's Literature Association of Utah in 1983.

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