Review: The Boston Chocolate Party

The Boston Chocolate Party

by Tami Lehman-Wilzig and Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz, illustrated by Fede Combi

Apples & Honey Press (imprint of Behrman House), 2022

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Shirley Reva Vernick

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Joshua Mendes lives in colonial Newport, Rhode Island, where his father imports chocolate beans and teaches café owners how to make hot chocolate as an alternative to the highly taxed tea. It’s Hanukkah—or, as Joshua’s Sephardic family calls it, Janucá—and Joshua is missing his friend Isaac. Isaac has recently moved to Boston with his widowed mother, who is hoping to find work in the city. When Joshua visits Boston and sees how destitute his friend has become, he has a brainstorm. He convinces his father to create a chocolate café in the shed right outside Isaac’s home and hire Isaac’s mother to run it.

On the night before the “chocolate house” is to open—which is also the last night of Hanukkah—the Boston Tea Party occurs right outside Isaac’s window. The Boston Chocolate Party employs the real-life coincidence of the Boston Tea Party with Hanukkah to amplify the importance of fighting for freedom, whether one is an American colonist, a Maccabee, or anyone else struggling for independence.

This delicious tale of friendship and freedom features bold and highly expressive illustrations. Images of colonial architecture, clothing, sailing vessels, and home furnishings will immerse readers squarely in the pre-Revolutionary setting. The authors’ note offers brief overviews of the Boston Tea Party, Hanukkah, and early American Jewry, and also features two recipes, one for colonial-style hot chocolate and one for buñuelos, a traditional Sephardic Hanukkah treat. Highly recommended for picture book audiences at home, school and library.

The Boston Chocolate Party is a robust contender for the Sydney Taylor Book Award. It authentically and positively represents Jewish culture, with an emphasis on Sephardic traditions and Hanukkah celebrations. There’s even a portrait of the Sephardic philosopher Rambam (Maimonides) hanging in Joshua’s house. Jewish values of kindness and friendship are demonstrated in an age-accessible way. Finally, the pre-Revolutionary setting is an added bonus, offering a glimpse of Jewish life in a less familiar era.

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Reviewer Shirley Reva Vernick is a middle-grade and young-adult novelist. Shirley’s debut novel, The Blood Lie, is a Sydney Taylor honor book and the winner of the Simon Wiesenthal Once Upon A World Book Award. Her latest Jewish-themed MG novel, RIPPED AWAY, was released by Regal House Publishing on February 8, 2022.