The first page in Anna Banana and the Chocolate Explosion is a rogues gallery lineup of adorable characters: Zigzag, the ball cap-wearing bunny; Fuzzball, a green and widely grinning fuzz ball; Pingpong, the penguin with the ursine appetite; Foxface, the fox; Whaley, the whale; and Grizzler, the independent bear.
And, of course, there is Anna Banana, the leader of the pack, stuffed animal orchestra conductor, and culinary teacher extraordinaire.
We then jump right into the action of the story. Pingpong announces his hunger. Chocolate cake is deemed the solution. Anna Banana immediately offers to teach her group of friends how to make this cake for themselves.
Hilarity ensues. Chocolate explodes.
As the task devolves into disorder, the delicate social structure of the group is threatened. Grizzler disappears on a mysterious quest to make his own cake. We learn that Fuzzball can’t quite be trusted with a spoon . . . or a whisk . . . or a bowl. Pingpong and Zigzag come to adorable blows over an unfortunate flour incident. And, just what is Grizzler doing off by himself anyway?!
By the time we get to the last page, with Anna and company sitting on the floor in a circle [SPOILER!] eating their cake, we have been on an epic quest of learning, mess making, and mystery solving. There are some narrative strings left untied for us. Just how are our bakers going to get all that chocolate out of Fuzzball’s fuzz? What will satisfy Pingpong’s hunger next time? Who’s going to pay off the bill at the neighborhood bakery?
The Anna Banana series is a wonderfully balanced collaboration between the mother-and-son team of Dominique Roques and Alexis Dormal. Roques’ simple and straightforward narration perfectly conveys Anna’s charismatic personality. Dormal employs a deceptively simple illustration style that perfectly captures the whimsical nature of Anna’s environment. Every page is filled with enchanting detail, hilarious facial expressions, and riveting action.
Chocolate Explosion is another phenomenal publication by the consistently innovative First Second Books, who previously released Roques and Dormal’s Sleep Tight, Anna Banana. While my own child is a bit too old for a nightly picture-book reading, I’m not at all ashamed to admit that I will be re-visiting the imaginative world of Anna Banana all on my very own. It’s chocolate cake for the childlike soul in all of us.
As a special treat . . . an interview with my 8-year-old son about Anna Banana and the Chocolate Explosion:
Claire: My favorite character was Fuzzball. Who was your favorite character?
David: The penguin, Pingpong. Because his face looked really funny when he yelled, “I’M HUNGRY!”
Claire: Clearly, whisking is a task that Fuzzball has a hard time with. What cooking task do you think Fuzzball could safely accomplish?
David: I don’t think Fuzzball can safely do anything!
Claire: Which of your stuffed animals would you rely on to bake a cake?
David: My monkey. He would put the cake in the oven for me.
Claire: What was your favorite scene in the book?
David: When Anna was giving all her animals the orders to get the cake ingredients.
Claire: What adventure would you like to see Anna and her friends go on next?
David: I think they should go to the desert and figure out if what they find is a mirage or not.