The Candymakers, written by Wendy Mass, 453 pp, RL 4
Of course I wanted to read Wendy Mass's newest book The Candymakers the minute I saw it. I am a huge fan of all the books of hers I have read (reviews of which you can read by clicking here) and a huge fan of kid's books that have candy as a central plot theme. Since it came out in paperback in October, 2011 it has been flying off the shelves. And, since October, 2011, I have been reading it out loud at night to my seven year old son. There are many, many reasons (that any bedtime reader will understand immediately) why it took us four months to read 453 pages. I tell you this not because it is any reflection on the book itself but because reading the book over this period of time gave me an insight how best to tackle this tome - which is a record length for a middle grade book that is not fantasy or historical fiction. My advice (and as you read on you will see the wisdom in it) is to read this book as continuously and quickly as possible if you are reading it out loud. If you are giving it to a reader, make sure that this person is dedicated, diligent and an observant reader. For us, reading The Candymakers over a long period of time and in small chunks meant that we forgot some of the small details and clues that became important in following chapters. Wendy Mass uses a wonderful plot device that allows the reader to experience the same day over and over from the different perspectives of the four main characters. Besides an acceptance letter inviting the four main characters to the Life is Sweet Candy Factory (the font in the book was always bold and funky whenever the name of the candy factory appeared and my son never grew tired of looking for it on each page) and a newspaper article about the upcoming Confectionary Association's annual new candy contest there is a brief "Things You Should Know" chapter. This chapter sets up the story and the four points of view focusing on the Candymaker's son Logan, a participant in the contest. Readers are warned not to think "he has an edge in the contest just because he was born smelling like chocolate" and to "pay close attention to what he tells you about the others - and himself - and what he doesn't"
Logan, Miles, Daisy and Phillip are the four twelve-year olds who have won for their region and will be going on to the big competition in two days' time. The four have been invited to spend those two days at the factory perfecting their creations with the benefit of the tools of the trade and some of greatest minds in the world of candy making. Logan's perspective is the first that we are treated to in The Candymakers. The Candymaker's son, he has grown up in the factory which, with it's beautiful grounds and outdoor areas to grow and raise the bulk of their ingredients, the interesting indoor facilities (where more of the ingredients are grown and raised like sapodilla trees and bees) from The Tropical Room, to the library, to the enormous chocolate fountain to the Tafffy Room, the Cocoa Room and the Bee Room, the Life is Sweet Candy Factory feels a bit Wonka-esque. However, Mass keeps her book as grounded in reality as possible while giving in to a few flights of fancy here and there. And she does such a great job with the candies she creates which, to some people, are as legendary and praiseworthy as Mickey Mantle or even Santa Claus. There's a Pepsicle, an Icy Mint Blob, the Oozing Crunchorama, the High Jumping Jelly Bean, Ten Minute Taffy and the Gummysaurus Rex, to name a few. Actually, as my son and I were reading we were both often overcome with a powerful desire to eat sweets. Consider this a second warning about how best to read this book and think twice about reading right after you have just brushed your teeth... Logan seems to live a charmed life in the factory with his two attentive and doting parents, as well as longtime employee/family friends at his side. But, as his day unfolds there are glimpses here and there of something that is not quite sweet. However, Logan's real job in the first part of the book is to introduce us to the other contestants. Miles, who arrives with a very full backpack that he never takes off, talks in complete sentences backwards when he is nervous and shares his opinions about the afterlife at length. Daisy is a cheerful, bouncy girl who reads romance novels and has a very heavy pocketbook that she never lets go of. Philip, who arrives in a suit, seems arrogant and snobbish in all that he does. Each characters' outward appearance becomes their persona until they have the chance to narrator their own parts and fill in the gaps. As with any stereotype, their are truths to each initial, if incorrect, impression. But, as the Henry David Thoreau quote that Mass begins her book with states, "It's not what you look at that matters. It's what you see." By the end of the book, all four characters have looked and all four have learned to see beyond looks.
Really, there isn't too much more I can tell you without giving away major plot surprises. If you are familiar with Mass's work you will know that she has a way with thoughtful, meaning filled plots and The Candymakers is no exception. Wrapped up in the middle of this mystery story is a sweet center that, in the end, is all about learning to trust, learning to be a friend, learning how to have a friend and, most of all, the value of working together. They way that Mass weaves this throughout her various characters and plot twists is as masterful as the work of the Candymaker himself.