Reviewing: “The Boston Chocolate Party,” by Tami Lehman-Wilzig and Rabbi Deborah Prinz. Apples and Honey Press. 2022. English. Hardcover. 32 pages. ISBN: 9781681155760.
“The Boston Chocolate Party” is a children’s book that entertains while teaching a little history about Jews in colonial America. In this lushly illustrated picture book, readers learn that some Sephardic Jews who escaped the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisition found a new home in the colonies. The book shows how Sephardic families at the time of the Boston Tea Party celebrated Chanukah. In an endearing story line, Joshua and Isaac are close friends separated when Isaac and his widowed mother move from Newport, Rhode Island, to Boston. When Joshua finally gets a chance to visit, he sees that his friend is living in poverty. He realizes that his family’s chocolate business can be his friend’s ticket to a better life. Who can resist a story where chocolate saves the day! At the back of the book, there’s a recipe for colonial-style hot chocolate and a summary of historical facts for context.
Author Tami Lehman-Wilzig is a prolific author of children’s books (visit https://www.tlwkidsbooks.com/). This is her second career after spending most of her professional life as an advertising copywriter. She has been living in Israel for 45 years but writes only in English. Her subjects run the gamut from bird migration in Israel and Shabbat in Jerusalem to a new book coming out fall 2024 on the aliyah of Yemenite Jews. Her focus is on Jewish culture, history, customs and diversity. “I would like Jewish children to know they have a rich heritage and culture to be proud of,” she said. “Through my books, they can learn more about it. If the story keeps their interest, they’ll remember and pursue further.”
Lehman-Wilzig wrote “The Boston Chocolate Party” with Rabbi Deborah Prinz, whom she met working on an annual calendar, “My Very Own Jewish Calendar,” which includes four interesting Jewish tidbits for every month. In her research for February, she discovered that February is chocolate-lovers’ month. She remembered a book she read by Prinz 10 years ago, “On the Chocolate Trail,” and contacted the author, who provided the information she needed for her own book. Lehman-Wilzig had secretly harbored a wish to ask her about working together on a children’s book but kept quiet. A month later, Prinz wrote to her saying she wanted to write a children’s book and asking if they could collaborate. Lehman-Wilzig came up with the idea and wrote the story; Prinz had all the facts about chocolate in colonial America, plus she did additional research to provide historical accuracy, such as finding out what games colonial children played. The illustrator was chosen by the publisher and a back-and-forth collaboration resulted in spot-on drawings. Although Lehman-Wilzig usually writes for children ages 5 to 8, the subject matter makes it appropriate for older children as well.
“The Boston Chocolate Party” was released in October and is getting lots of positive feedback. “I have readers writing to me saying. ‘Here’s a photo of me reading to my children or grandchildren,’” said Lehman-Wilzig. “One 10-year-old sent a book review!” Another reader shared how in today’s climate of rising antisemitism, she appreciated a book showing that Jews have been in the United States since the beginning of the country. “That never would have occurred to me, living in Israel.”
Lehman-Wilzig is now editing books already in the publishing pipeline, and she’s waiting to hear about another manuscript she sent for consideration. It’s about the artist Rembrandt and a painting he did that connects to a Jewish subject. At one point in his life, he moved into the Jewish quarter by mistake, thinking it was the artists’ quarter. “It took me three years to write. I researched, did many versions and put it away in a drawer. One year later, a whole new version came to me. I should be getting an answer in January.”
If colonial America, bird migration in Israel and Rembrandt seem like unusual subjects for children’s books, that’s by design. “In general, my aim is to do things that are not done. I look into Jewish culture and see what hasn’t been done and what interests me.”
“The Boston Chocolate Party” is available from Apples and Honey press at https://store.behrmanhouse.com/index.php/apples-and-honey-press.html.
By Bracha Schwartz