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The Chocolate King

Illustrator:
Laura Catalan
A boy and his grandfather help popularize chocolate in 17th century France, playing a key role in the chocolate trade. A fold-out includes facts about chocolate history, chocolate-making, and a recipe. "Highly recommended." Jewish Book Council
In stock
SKU:
5582
ISBN:
9781681155821
Product Type:
Printed Material
Grade Level:
K-3
$17.95

Benjamin dreams of making chocolate like his grandfather Marco--roasting and grinding the cocoa beans, and stirring it just right. Back in Spain, Marco was known as the Chocolate King for his incredible hot chocolate! But here in France, most people in town have never had chocolate. They think it looks strange, like mud. It just may take a chocolate catastrophe to change their minds.

Set in France in the mid-1600's, this intergenerational story of one family's part in the migration of chocolate from the Americas to Spain and then to France and other parts of Europe includes an age-appropriate look at the Jewish expulsion from Spain: 

"They called me El Rey del Chocolate . . . The Chocolate King!"

"But one day," Marco said sadly, "we heard that the royal court wanted anyone who wasn't Catholic to leave the country -- including Jewish people like us. We stayed in Spain for as long as we culd, but finally we had to leave."

An 8-page fold-out includes an illustrated, bite-sized history of chocolate and the Jewish community, and a look at how cocoa beans are made into chocolate, all extensively researched, plus a recipe for thick hot chocolate from Claudia Roden.

Reviews

Michael Lev­en­thal and Lau­ra Catalán’s new pic­ture book tells the sur­pris­ing sto­ry of Jew­ish refugees from Spain who brought choco­late to France in the sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry. Weav­ing togeth­er fairy tale ele­ments and his­to­ry, Lev­en­thal illus­trates the per­sis­tence of one Jew­ish fam­i­ly as they enrich the cul­ture of their new home.

This rags-to-rich­es tale begins with fam­i­ly his­to­ry, as young Benjamin’s grand­fa­ther Mar­co explains how the Inqui­si­tion and the Span­ish monar­chy reduced him, a once-suc­cess­ful Jew­ish mer­chant, to pover­ty. Trade with the new Amer­i­can colonies had brought cocoa beans, long used by both the Mayans and Aztecs, to Europe. When the king and queen began to dri­ve Jews out of their coun­try, thriv­ing entre­pre­neurs had to leave with the cocoa beans that they hoped would be their family’s trea­sure. This rever­sal of for­tune threat­ened to dethrone Mar­co, the Choco­late King, per­ma­nent­ly. But, as in most folk tales, cir­cum­stances change and fideli­ty to a dream pays off, although Mar­co is as prag­mat­ic as he is vision­ary. After all, he points out, mak­ing choco­late was his only skill.

Catalán’s live­ly and detailed illus­tra­tions make the past tan­gi­ble to young read­ers. Peri­od cos­tumes and set­tings point to a far­away time, but her char­ac­ters’ facial expres­sions sig­nal uni­ver­sal truths. In addi­tion to straight­for­ward nar­ra­tive, some images are accom­pa­nied by Leventhal’s comedic cap­tions. A woman stick­ing her tongue out pro­claims, ​“That’s the worst glop I’ve ever seen,” while an open-mind­ed child smiles and con­cludes that choco­late is great. Like a Brueghel paint­ing, both domes­tic inte­ri­ors and crowd­ed streets con­tain dif­fer­ent areas of focus as indi­vid­u­als engage in a flur­ry of activ­i­ties. Lev­en­thal and Catalán’s sto­ry is as uni­ver­sal as food, fam­i­ly, and find­ing a new home.

This high­ly rec­om­mend­ed book includes an illus­trat­ed time­line and a hot choco­late recipe by Clau­dia Roden.

--Emily Schneider, Jewish Book Council

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