Avoiding Summer Slide
Underneath: Sarah Jamila Stevenson

The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop: Kate Saunders

Book: The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop
Author: Kate Saunders
Pages: 304
Age Range: 9 and up

The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop has such an appealing cover and title that I pulled it immediately onto my short stack of books to read, without any real idea of what it was about. It wasn't quite what I expected (the chocolate shop in the book is long closed, and was never called The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop in the first place), but I enjoyed it nevertheless.

The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop is an adventure set in a modern-day version of London in which magic lurks around every corner, carefully hidden from non-magical folk. But no, it's not a Harry Potter knock-off. It's a lighter concoction, with a vain immortal talking cat, parents who are self-absorbed to the extent of missing, well, everything, and a villain who ends up being more pathetic than scary. 

The story begins when eleven-year-old twins Oz and Lily move with their parents into a house that their dad has just inherited from his great uncle. The house includes the workshop for the chocolate shop that the uncle used to run with his triplet brothers. Oz and Lily soon learn that the family was brought to house so that they, together with a magical young neighbor, could use their innate magic to help stop a crime. The whole thing is over-the-top ridiculous (eleven year olds working for a secret division of MI6, an invisible elephant ghost?), but quite entertaining. There are a couple of more serious elements to the story, but nothing as dark as you'll see in most current middle grade fantasy. 

I found the characterization in The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop to be a little thin - I never had much of an impression of Caydon, the neighbor who joins Oz and Lily in their quest. Even Oz and Lily won't stay with me as characters, I don't think. But Saunders is great at building worlds that kids will find appealing, and that goes a long way. Like this:

"For a long moment they stood in silence, gazing around a large room that looked like a dusty cave crammed with extraordinary objects. It was dominated by a large, deep fireplace with a grill like a barbecue. A big metal cylinder, festooned with cobwebs, loomed in one corner and in the middle of the room was a long bench with a marble top. On top of this stood a flat, smooth stone with an ashy grate underneath it..." (Page 9) 

"This was amazing. He was in a cavern, its roof hidden by thick black shadows. The desert of darkness was punctuated by little puddles of lamplight, showing groups of furniture like rooms in an invisible house. At the far end of the space Oz saw a laboratory gleaming with glass tubes and jars. One pool of light contained a carved wooden bed covered with a faced green quilt; another contained a white bathtub like a boat, half hidden behind a screen covered with pictures of castles." (Page 79)

Although Saunders wraps everything up neatly at the end of The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop, it would be a shame to let her Secret Ministry of the Unexplained (SMU) (not to mention the talking roses on Lily's wallpaper) fade away. Perhaps we'll see other adventures for Lily, Oz, and their talking cat. I, for one, would not be able to resist reading them. 

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: March 12, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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