This wildly scrumptious, deliciously fun children’s novel for ages eight to twelve basks in the sweet aroma of a whirlwind fantasy-adventure as it teaches a big lesson on forgiveness and making peace.
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A lip-smacking, mouthwatering, absolutely delectable debut, BELLYACHE: A Delicious Tale by Crystal Marcos is a literary feast. In the vein of Roald Dahl’s best-loved adventures, Marcos offers a mystical, character driven escapade that intertwines strands of reality with a larger-than-life fantasy world. When Peter Fischer sets out to help his grandfather at Papa’s Sweet Shop, he will quickly learn that sneaking sweets and covering up his sugar-dusted tracks will have major consequences. As Peter is transported to a mysteriously delicious, faraway land, a curious people known as the Candonites, some of whom have no time for a non-Candonite, will teach Peter a lesson on what it means to be different and what it means to forgive.
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It was a school holiday and Peter Fischer had to spend the day working with his grandfather. His parents had jobs and Peter, now ten, felt he was too old for a babysitter. He had never been to work with Papa before. His grandfather owned a sweet shop. Papa’s Sweet Shop. Peter was excited. What fun he would have tasting all the luscious treats!
Peter planned his day in his head. First, a cupcake with heaps of whipped cream icing. Then, several pieces of chocolate filled with all kinds of wonderful centers. Next, red licorice. He thought black licorice tasted gross; he only knew one person who liked it and that was old man Rupert. Old man Rupert lived a few houses down and was always in the garden, fiddling around with a piece of black licorice dangling out of the corner of his mouth—disgusting.
After lunch, a peppermint, followed by a chocolate chip cookie, half a brownie—he wanted to save room for other sweets—Tootsie Rolls, and lemon drops. Then, he would take a break from eating and help Papa with the afternoon rush of customers. After the rush, a few gumdrops and gumballs—the blue ones of course—and then gooey taffy, followed by gummy bears and super sour gummy worms. Lastly, he would have his most favorite treat of all, creamy chocolaty peanut butter cups—two or three of them, he wasn’t quite sure yet.
But Papa had a different plan for Peter.
“Hello, Peter. I am so glad to have you as my little helper today. As a reward for your work, you may have three pieces of candy.” Papa grinned. “Go on now, pick out what you want and put them in the back for later.”
“Just three?” Peter moped.
“I think three is plenty. We don’t want you to get cavities or make yourself sick.” Papa smiled and pushed his glasses back on the bridge of his nose. “Now go on, pick.”
Just three, Peter thought to himself. What about all that planning he had done? Well, he would have to think about his choices ever so carefully. Peter took a small plastic plate down from the counter, already knowing one of his choices. He needed to pick the other two. He opened the case to the heavenly chocolates and was nearly knocked off his feet by the grand smells of the freshly made candies. How could he pick just three? He made his first choice, a milk chocolate chunk. He made his second choice, dark-chocolate-covered nougat. He was about to put his last choice, his creamy chocolaty peanut butter cup, onto his plate when he noticed Papa was busy with a customer. He grabbed another peanut butter cup and turned quickly to go to the back room. He put his plate down on the little table next to the picture of Papa and Nana on the wall. He turned around so he wasn’t facing the picture, and devoured the extra peanut butter cup before returning to the front to help Papa.
Papa asked, “Are you happy with your choices, Peter?”
“Oh yes, thank you, Papa.”
“Good, now help me stock the gummy jars before the afternoon rush. Go and get the gummies in the back room,” Papa ordered.
Peter saw the gummies stacked on a red wagon. He started to roll them to the front of the store when he thought he would have a couple super sour gummy worms and a few gummy bears. No one would ever know the difference. Peter gobbled them up on the way to the front. They were so yummy, and the worms were almost too sour, he was afraid Papa would see his scrunched-up face. But Papa didn’t. Peter stocked the gummies and helped Papa with a few customers.
One was an incredibly tall woman with bright red hair and a sharp jaw.
“Peter, come here.” Papa said. “I want you to meet Mrs. Nielson. She has been a customer of mine since the day we opened, and she comes in every Monday for a special batch of fudge. Go and fetch it in the refrigerator, please.”
“Hello, nice to meet you,” Peter said.
The woman smiled back.
Peter looked in the huge walk-in refrigerator and saw a white box labeled “Mrs. Nielson.” He took the box, and right behind it, staring back at him, was more fudge, lots and lots of fudge, stacked high. Surely Papa would not miss just one piece. So he stuffed one in his mouth and swallowed as quickly as possible, almost so fast he couldn’t taste it. On the way to the front, he grabbed one of his own candies off of his plate on the table. It was the milk chocolate chunk, and it was terrific!
When he saw his grandfather, Peter was still chewing the last bit of his chunk. “I had one of my candies. That’s okay, right?”
“Of course, Peter, you deserve it.” Papa grinned, taking Mrs. Nielsen’s fudge from Peter.
Peter watched the door as she left and saw the postman coming in. He was a short man with thick black hair and glasses like Papa’s. He handed Papa a few letters and a medium-sized box marked “Special Delivery” in bright red.
Wonder what’s in there? Peter thought.
“Would you like a caramel for the road, Lucian?” Papa asked.
“You know I would!” admitted Lucian. “And who is this young fellow?”
“This is my grandson, Peter. He is helping me out around the store today,” Papa said proudly.
“You must be having a good time,” Lucian said, biting into his caramel. Caramel dripped from his mouth, and he licked his lips to make sure he got every last morsel.
“Yes, sir,” Peter answered.
“When your grandfather and I were little, we hardly ever got any candy. You are a very fortunate boy to have a grandfather who owns a sweet shop. Well, I’d love to stay, but I must be on my way.”
Peter thought about what Lucian had said. It was true; he was a fortunate boy. When Peter was younger, Papa told him a story about when he was a boy in Germany and his family did not have much money. A generous neighbor used to put pennies in a tree in their backyard and tell him and his brothers to shake it. The neighbor called it a magic tree. When they shook the magic tree, the pennies fell out and scattered around like copper treasures. It brought the neighbor great joy to see their faces light up. Papa and his brothers would gather up the coins and run straight to the general store to buy some candy. He tried to make his candy last as long as possible, doing things like licking a piece of candy one long stroke at a time instead of sticking the whole thing in his mouth. Now he had a candy shop of his very own.
The phone rang and brought Peter back to reality. He heard Papa talking but he wasn’t really listening.
Papa hung up and told Peter to open the bottom drawer near the cupcakes and get out six candies that said “Happy Birthday” on them and put them on six chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting. Papa said he would put them in a box when he came back from using the bathroom. He was sure Peter could cover the store for a few minutes.
Once Peter was alone, he did as his papa asked. The smell of the mixture of the vanilla and chocolate was too much for him to handle. How fast could he eat a cupcake? He looked at the shelf lined with cupcakes and took one. Peter definitely could eat one fast because it was gone before he knew it, and Papa was not back yet. He shoved the cupcake paper into the front pocket of his cargo shorts.
At that moment, Papa appeared with a box for the cupcakes. He even had purple and red ribbon to tie it with.
“I need you to take these down to Ruthie’s Carpets.” Papa reached into the penny dish. “Make sure you give them this when they give you the money.” He handed him a penny.
Inside Ruthie’s, a small bundle of fluff greeted him at the door and he nearly dropped the cupcakes from surprise. It was a dog who was sniffing Peter’s shoe. A woman with peppered white hair called the dog over and waved Peter in. The woman’s name tag said “Ruthie.”
“Hello, I have your cupcakes.”
“Thank you very much. Joyce has been trying to keep her birthday a secret from us, but we found out and couldn’t let it pass by without doing anything,” Ruthie said.
Suddenly, there were four other people beside him. One man said, laughing, “We smelled those cupcakes and came runnin’!”
“I am going to pass on the cupcake,” a robust man said, patting his stomach. “I promised my doctor I would watch what I eat.”
He turned to Peter and asked, “Hey, kid, do you want mine?”
Peter looked at Ruthie for approval.
“If it doesn’t spoil your lunch, I don’t see why not,” she answered.
“No, it won’t,” said Peter.
They sang “Happy Birthday” to Joyce and ate the cupcakes. Peter was right; they loved them. Ruthie gave Peter the money, and he made sure to give her the penny before he headed back to Papa. On his way back, he felt a little grumble in his stomach. He knew that feeling…he was starting to get full. He thought to himself he would lay off of eating anything for a while. Another grumble.