Written by Michael Leventhal
Illustrated by Laura Catalán
Recipe by Claudia Roden
Price: £10.99 / $12.99
Subject: A Spanish-Jewish family introduces chocolate to France
A historical tale about how chocolate first came to France – the result of Jews escaping the Spanish Inquisition
Gently teaches children about religious intolerance, immigration, and the positive influence refugees and immigrants can have on the dominant culture
Includes Claudia Roden’s recipe for traditional Spanish hot chocolate
Beautifully illustrated throughout, with a foldout section on the making of chocolate
Benjamin loves chocolate. He also knows a lot about it. But one person knows more – his grandfather Marco, otherwise known as the Chocolate King.
Benjamin’s family arrive in France at the beginning of the 17th century, having escaped the Spanish Inquisition. They have nothing but the clothes on their backs and as many cocoa beans as they can carry.
Back in Spain, Benjamin’s grandfather Marco was El Rey de Chocolate, famed for his delicious hot chocolate drink, a recipe he claims he learned from an intrepid Spanish explorer. But now, if the family are to make a living, they must persuade the people of France to fall in love with Marco’s strange mud-coloured concoction. Benjamin is desperate to help, dreaming that he might grow up to wear the Chocolate King crown.
Then, one day, Benjamin causes chaos in the kitchen. Covered head-to-toe in chocolate, he stumbles into the street and straight into the path of the real King – the King of France.
Finally, the family get the breakthrough they need, and all of Benjamin’s dreams start to come true.
Michael Leventhal is the publisher of Greenhill Books and Green Bean Books. The Chocolate King is his first book for children and won a PJ Library Author Incentive Award.
‘Michael Leventhal introduces us to the history of chocolate and its Jewish connections. The descriptions are evocative and suitably regal – a ’thick dark dink, with a crown of wobbly foam”, while Laura Catalan’s charming illustrations are filled with precisely researched detail. A timeline, cocoa-bean facts, a talmudic moral and a Claudia Roden recipe are are included in this keepsake book for the whole family to enjoy.’ – Angela Kiverstein, The Jewish Chronicle
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
‘Laura Catalán’s winsome, detailed illustrations rendered in a warm, chocolaty palette perfectly complement Leventhal’s lively, carefully researched text. Eager eyes will enjoy the historically accurate architecture, period garb, and delightful touches of humor, as they spot a chocolate mustache, a laughing horse, relatable facial expressions, an eye roll here and there. All go a long way towards making these long-ago people accessible and alive to a modern audience, and they will surely giggle over the King’s big burp.’ – Jama’s Alphabet Soup blog, www.jamarttigan.com
‘The new book from Green Bean Books, The Chocolate King is a cute tale of how Jews introduced chocolate in France. Written by Michael Leventhal and Illustrated by Laura Catalán, it is the story of young Benjamin, who dreams of making chocolate like his grandfather Marco, who made a thick, dark beverage of hot chocolate. Without gory details, Marco explains to Benjamin how their family had to leave Spain, with as many cocoa beans as they could take, and move to France. There, people were not familiar with chocolate. How they discover how delicious it is, thanks to Benjamin, is the climax of the story. While there is no overt Jewish content in the book, it is based on historical fact. As a librarian, I appreciated the “Bite-Sized History of Chocolate and the Jewish Community,” a pictorial timeline that starts with the Mayans around 600 CE and ends with Bayonne as the chocolate capital of France. Another pictorial shows the production of chocolate “From Bean to Bar.” And, completing the backmatter is a recipe for “Thick Hot Chocolate Drink”- Chocolate a La Taza – by Claudia Roden.’ –Life is Like a Library blog
‘The illustrations are humorous, colorful, and convey life in 17th-century France in charming detail.’ – The Sydney Taylor Schmooze.