Green Bean Books

The Chocolate King

Written by Michael Leventhal
Illustrated by Laura Catalán
Recipe by Claudia Roden

Price: £10.99 / $12.99
Pages: 40
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 9781784386740
Subject: A Spanish-Jewish family introduces chocolate to France

Highlights

  • 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

Description

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.

Author Details

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.

Previously he founded Gefiltefest, a Jewish food charity which organised Europe’s biggest Jewish food festival. He is co-author of Jews in Britain and edited The Hand of History (illustrated by Chris Riddell). He eats a lot of chocolate. You can see more of his work at www.michaelleventhal.co.uk.  You can read an interview about chocolate with him on Deborah Kalb’s blog here.
 
To read an interview with Michael on Barbara Bietz’s blog Jewish Book for Kids click here.
 
 
Illustrator Details
 
Laura Catalán has illustrated numerous fiction books and educational material for Spanish, UK and US publishing houses. Her picture books include Two Peas in a Pod, The Naughty Spectre and Daughter of the God Sülde.
 
Reviews

‘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