Monday, August 15, 2011

Hot Cocoa Diagnosed

A Cocoa Chronicle Vignette by Valerie Williams-Sanchez

My sister-in-chocolate, Gloria*, had become quite unsettled, almost nervous. It was a notable and noticeable change from the normally unflappable demeanor I have known her to have since we became college friends more than two decades ago in California. Her uneasiness got my attention. After all, this is a woman who has traversed to India, Latin America and the Caribbean, several European countries and had even done a two-year bid, teaching in Central Africa, dodging termite showers and stomach parasites in post-war Chad. More, and perhaps as challenging, after surviving all of that, she'd gone on to become a high school math teacher in New York City. 

Gloria isn't an emotional light weight. But she was worried. And I could tell. She was tutoring me in math, in preparation of my sitting to take the GRE, but something else was up. It seemed she had recently had an irregular mammogram and had been scheduled for a biopsy in the coming week. She was on pins and needles about the possibilities. "One in seven women get breast cancer," she told me in true mathematician style. The look of worry seemed to give way to momentary relief at sharing what had been bothering her.  It was an opportunity to voice her fears.
I listened. 

She continued telling me about how one abnormal test had given way to another inconclusive result, and how the waiting had been tough. Then I leveled with her. If the stats were one in seven, she was probably in the clear since I too had recently had an irregular mammogram.

"But I have it," I said flatly. "I have Breast Cancer."
"Really?" she asked with incredulity.
"Really," I confirmed.

Then she asked me the question one ob-gyn, three radiologists, two breast surgeons, two reconstructive plastic surgeons and myriad nurses, physician assistants, hospital and insurance forms had posed to me previously: "How did you find the lump?"

The  Diagnosis
It began as just another lump. This time, in my left breast, the knot was like others I'd found while doing my self exam. I have had others before. I even joked one year after my annual mammogram how looking for one, which at the time was deemed benign, had been like an Easter egg hunt, in which the technician had to push, probe and prod, until the familiar mound had been hunted down, and checked. That's why this year when I was told my mammogram was irregular, I wasn't so alarmed, at least not at first. 

I knew the drill, well. A former healthcare writer for a now defunct publisher of medical and healthcare industry news and reports, I had written about breast cancer, protocols and pharmaceutical therapies that had proven efficacies in treatment years prior. I knew the disease is caused when mutant cells in breast tissue grow rampant, creating tumors which could be benign or malignant, harmless or deadly. I also knew early detection through mammogram (x-ray of the breast) is still the best method for mitigating overall all risk, since currently, there is still no cure.

More, I understood that early detection offers more treatment options and a higher likelihood for survival. This was why years ago when I worked for almost a decade for a non-profit, even before this current incident, I subscribed and paid out of pocket to maintain costly health insurance, basic care and coverage for myself and daughter, care that included my annual check-ups. In these ways alone, I was perhaps dissimilar to many other black women, according to the website,

And so, like for so many women with breast lumps, I thought little of it, never dreaming I would be the one in seven or eight women for whom one of those lumps, would be life changing and that on a day in June would prompt me to hear these words: "Yeah, it's breast cancer," my initial, diagnosing physician had said. "It looked suspicious," and the results confirmed it.

Breast Cancer does not discriminate.

While awaiting my test results, I had been in denial. "I'm too young for any of that," I rationalized. "Besides, I'm years away from menopause. It's probably just another cyst (a fluid-filled sac that can be drained), or maybe a fibro adenoma (an abnormal noncancerous growth)." Maybe, if left it alone, it would, "go away" as other such lumps had in the past. But this year, this time, there was a difference.

Another lump, a bit higher up my side, nearer to my under arm, marked one difference. Pre-menstrual at the time of my mammogram, I'd been directed to have an ultra-sonogram to reach a more conclusive result. And so, I lay in the radiologist's office, on yet another day, while the technician worked the goo-slathered wand, up and down, massaging my side, until even I could see gathered, rising beneath my skin a small, protruding mound. This time what I thought would turn out to be a "pseudo lump," caused by hormonal changes, wasn't.

Completely painless, the new mass and the main tumor were firm to the touch. In hindsight, and at nearly 4cm, the growths were too large to be ignored. Like the young woman in the fable, The Princess and the Pea, I had felt the mass growing all along, but after one then another benign result, I had learned to live with the knot as an irritant.

I had not forgotten about the lump, and had been keeping watch on it. Something that size isn't easy to forget. But things in my life had gotten busy for the better part of a year, as I had begun to live the life of a bi-coastal commuter, traveling between New Jersey and California for work. Through it all, I had struggled to connect with my regular ob-gyn in Irvine, Calif. to have my annual exam. I'd finally given up trying to schedule an appointment in the West, and found a new doctor in the East. I went through the usual battery of test and exams, with all the usual results – with one exception.

With almost a week ahead of me to await the test results, I had agonized over and role-played most every possible outcome, in preparation of the best and the worst. But it was one day at work that proved pivotal in my mental preparation.

My Unbroken Bat
A co-worker regularly brings in the "broken bats" from her husband's and her budding business, which packages and sells pretzel rods or "bats," to major league baseball venues on the East Coast. Almost weekly, she brings in broken pretzel sticks for us in our department to gnosh on. Much like the water cooler in other offices, the large garbage bag of broken pretzels rests atop an island of file cabinets in our department work area, serving as an informal gathering spot. The day before I received the call from my doctor, I had reached into the plastic bag and pulled out, blindly, a whole bat.  With all the others broken, mine had been the long stick pulled in some cosmic draw. I saw it as a sign.

The next day, I got the call and the request to schedule a PET-scan. This test was to determine whether the cancer had spread to other parts of my body. I took the test and, fortunately, it had not.

African American women are more likely than all other women to die from breast cancer, according to, because for black women, tumors are found at a later, more advanced, stage so there are fewer treatment options. Poor access to healthcare or not following-up after getting abnormal test results is common among women of color. Other reasons may include distrust of the health care system, the belief that mammograms are not needed, or not having insurance.

Now "in the club" few want to be in, I've been told by other esteemed and longtime members of the "cancer club," support groups and in reading and hearing testimonials, that if I have to have cancer, breast cancer is among the best forms to have. This is because I will get everything to treat it; surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Survival rates and quality of life following breast cancer treatment, at my levels, are high.

Thankfully, Gloria's case turned out to be a false alarm. Later, she told me she felt badly when I suggested that we celebrate her good news, given my misfortune. But to her concern, I told her: "Don't feel bad for me, I'll be living even more fully, now."

And in many ways this is true. I feel lucky, or stated differently, blessed by God and faith, to have been diagnosed and to have been afforded the resources that enabled swift action to address my cancer, which post mastectomy, has been determined to be a Stage II.

Ah, the luck of the draw.


*Gloria is a fictitious name. This name has been changed to maintain anonymity. 

© 2011 Valerie Williams-Sanchez. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Hot Cocoa Healthy

A Cocoa Chronicle Vignette

Luscious, lovely locks, they are any woman's crowning glory, be they long and luxurious, cut short and spiky or even tender, perhaps tough, curling tendrils. Hair is serious business for women, but especially for women of color. Hair sets the tone and sets the bar for beauty among women of color and can often speak volumes of each's personal politics, agenda, tastes, preferences and/or style. 

Hair, like body image, is a blank canvas of creativity for many women of color that is used boldly or conservatively at will, and often for affect. Hair can also be a harbinger, heralding details about a woman's health.

Hair and hairstyle 'flava' was the topic du jour, sipping hot cocoa yesterday morning with my mother. We were looking at and talking about celebrity manes. Specifically, I was considering Beyonce's white chocolate blond, Tyra's cinnamon-mocha red and Naomi's dark chocolate brunette, tresses.

I relished in the moment sharing a cup of one of my more exotic, hot cocoa elixirs – NibMor Organic Drinking Chocolate, Six Spice -- with her, which, she enjoyed while I had a more old-world cup of Payard Chocolat Chaud avec Pepites de Chocolat Ameres, laced with cocoa beans. My daughter who came along to join us a bit later sipped a cold Cola Cao, the Spanish equivalent of Nesquik or Ovaltine, she brought back from her recent trip to Spain visiting her Spanish relatives, my former in-laws. It was early morning and driving to a Starbucks for coffee wasn't an option. It was also my first day home from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center 

In June of this year, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And on August 1, 2011, I underwent a unilateral, modified, radical mastectomy with axillary lymph node dissection. In plain English, a few days ago, I had a mastectomy to remove my left breast.

Diagnosed only a few months ago at another hospital, the procedure was the a result of a second opinion consultation at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. It was through this consultation that I was afforded the option of a unilateral, as opposed to the bilateral, mastectomy, as originally prescribed. 

After what was considered an extended-stay in the hospital, I had been released, was resting comfortably on this morning after two, exhausting and nauseated days. I was not simply enjoying, but really savoring, the cup of sweet stuff like never before. Curled up on the sofa, I was warmed and comforted by hot cocoa, among the first foods I was able to keep down. Our talk of celebrity hair styles centered on cranial prosthesis, also known as wigs, and which brand and style I might select.

Now, preparing for chemotherapy, I am contemplating the next phase of my treatment and how to own my experience, embrace the forthcoming changes in my appearance, while continuing to love my body and myself back to good health.  

Much has transpired over the weeks between my first diagnosis and my procedure, about which I will write in subsequent posts. And still more, new things are yet to come. 

Now through to the first part of my recovery, in the days ahead, I'll be writing about most all of this experience, looking at breast cancer and treatment from the perspective of a woman of color, my point of view.

While cancer is cancer, I'm finding out that there are cultural differences, considerations specific to ethnic body image, and socio-economic challenges worth writing about as well as rich resources of spirit, hope and friendship that are only just beginning to unfold.

© 2011 Valerie Williams-Sanchez. All rights reserved.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Hot Chocolate, Ugly?

A Cocoa Chronicle Vignette

For as many variations of chocolate that exist, there are equal number of hues and tones of women of color. And many, black women in particular, embrace this coincidence, boldly. Many a "sistah" has likened hers, the skin color of dark, milk, even white chocolate. And just as many know what it is like to be called-out to amorously. "Hey, Cocoa Brown!" or "Hot Chocolate!" or even "Milk Chocolate Momma!" These are terms of endearment to our collective, the sorority of African Diasporan sistahs.

Strolling through Brooklyn, Harlem, Los Angeles, Orange County, Calif. -- my home, and so very many places in between and beyond, you cannot help but marvel at our diverse and wide array of beauty. We come in all sizes and shapes, heights, weights, and wear a cornicopia of fashions, styles and looks, ranging from classical to way, way out there. We so often create "looks" that are all our own and that go on to set the pace for the "mainstream." Yeah, black chicks rock. Just look around.

This is why just over a month ago, mine wasn't a reactionary response, when Satoshi Kanazawa's study results were published in Psychology Today, drawing wide spread response and backlash for suggesting that Black women are genetically predisposed to be ugly.

In the results, the author claimed he had quantified proof that Black Women, as a class of people, are blanketly and broadly, less attractive than their same gender counterparts, based on his efforts to objectively and quantitatively measure the physical attractiveness of peoples of various races.

Using emperical data to conclude that most men and women's attractiveness rate as above-average, Kanazawa leaps inferentially to claim that "black women are significantly less physically attractive than women of other races."

Psychology Today ran the story and the sparks continue to fly.

My reaction to the story and its premise, wasn't one of fury or anger, as I understood the "science" behind the headline wasn't really about beauty or even ugliness, at all.

While my read may have minced semantic hairs, it is also took into consideration a whole host of different judgments, social and racial stereotypes, etc. that probably were melted into Kanazawa's conclusions.

This is to say, I clearly don't think Black women are ugly, but our natural physical beauty, features and attributes which are at once loathed and loved, are often, grossly undervalued until they are appropriated.

Consider the popularity of beauty enhancing treatments such as tanning, lip injections, butt lifts, braided and crimped hairstyles. With so many of our attributes being "copied," black women and our beauty cannot be all bad. Tastes, however, can be bad and do change. And since our American culture is one which drives and set standards for many things global, no doubt as such perceptions shift so will the barometer of chocolate beauty.

Further, I think, more and more broadly, that the average black woman is given fewer options, reasons, expectations and resources for and with which to really try and contend with conventional Western standards of beauty. Often times, I feel this is why black women develop, define and embrace our own notions of beauty, rather than assimilating to exisitng, culturally non-inclusive ideas and ideals that constrict, alienate and run counter to many black women's real lives.

As an example, I look at the publication Today's Black Woman, and others, ones which I feel are  fascinating attempts to re-cast a black female aesthetic into a broader, more modern, net. African, "exotic-looking" and European-esque though strongly, clearly and proudly black, bi-racial models in the magazine and publications like Essence and Ebony, more and more seem to be trying to articulate a broader view of a black beauty and to a larger extent, style by offering a very different, fresh voice. This new approach is at once softer, yet edgier, modern yet reminiscent of our past and everpresent flair for originality.

Some of my recent writing, about skin care, and beauty treatments, have an eye to this dynamic and the polemic of creating a modern black beauty, the common thesis: To be one's best, on one's own terms.

Looking to kick things up a notch, in terms of a pursuit of being my best self, I've been trying to stretch, and to try new things, changing my own perceptions of "what is and isn't Black", and steping out of old comfort zones to embrace change. My 15-year-old daughter helps me with this a lot. Busily developing her own sense of style, my child has inspired me to rock sidewalk-grey mani-pedis, stack on chunky and skinny bracelets and to generally pay more attention to details so many of us black women forget in our day-to-day, hustle-and-bustle lives.

More, watching my relatively carefree child move through her world, I'm reminded that there's nothing quite as pretty or as inviting on anyone than a smile. And that is universal. But for so long, and for so many black women worldwide and here in the U.S., a simple smile has been a luxury.

Attenuating Invisible Women, Neither Seen or Heard?

Further, the article, Are Black Women Invisible?; Do Black women go unnoticed more often?  as linked below is to me, presents a polematic more clarion than Kanazawa's tale. It also was published in Psychology Today. Notice the article's thesis. then consider that FLOTUS, Michelle Obama's reign has a shelf life, that is a direct relationship to President Obama's term limits. More, this paired with Grande Dame, Oprah Winfrey's retirement make this story, in my opinion, more unsettling and disturbing than the other about black women's beauty.

These named are strong, often outspoken women, just as so many of out historical heros are. Ironically, it is this same strength, when parsed out and named with such adjectives, have led to sweeping characterizations of black women as aggressive, shrews, with masculine tendencies, perhaps a social factor that has landed the collective to be cast as ugly and not feminine, beyond obvious examples or incidents of hormonal imbalance.

More, to the introduction about Rosa Parks, I think black women are forced to "get ugly" far too often. So much so, that such ugly behavior has become expected as part of the way in which the world sees the collective of black women, albeit a stereotypic assumption.

Speaking loudly, being combative, wearing the constant scowl of self-defense and the "attitude" of resistance against gender and ethnic marginalization is not pretty, but rather is tiresome and corrosive, factors which over the years can have lasting effects on one's countenance, physical health and overall sense of well-being. Making this all the more a circular an arguement, such behaviors become self-fulfulling, beyond notions of simple perception. Consider the old adage re-written: Ugly is as ugly does. Perhaps when fewer black women no longer have to fight to be seen heard and respected, more of our numbers will have the luxury to be pretty.

© 2011 Valerie Williams-Sanchez. All rights reserved.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Hot Chocolate Beauty and Confidence for Spring

A Cocoa Chronicle Vignette

As winter gives way to warm, the appearance of hot chocolate beverages wanes, giving way to lighter options or those that refresh. But, ubiquitous for its myriad benefits, health properties, flavor and overall constitution, hot chocolate is now turning up in surprising places for use in unexpected applications.

From hot chocolate massage to chocolate facials, mani/pedis, chocolate is among the hottest ingredients in professional beauty products. In all of its forms, dark, milk, white and even the butter of the cocoa bean (cocoa butter), chocolate infusions are giving tried and true beauty techniques an aromatic and decadent lift. 

According to (, chocolate's beauty enhancing properties include:

Skin Softener
  • The skin softening properties of chocolate comes directly from its major content, the cocoa butter. Chocolate is extremely rejuvenating for your skin and refreshes the skin. It has turned out to be an excellent beauty ingredient and is being heavily used in beauty care treatments for its skin softening ingredients. It is an exceptional natural moisturizer which makes your skin soft and supple.
Smooths Wrinkles
  • The anti-oxidants also known as anti-aging allies in dark chocolate helps to avoid and prevents the free radicals from damaging the skin’s elastin, collagen and various other proteins. Therefore, chocolate is used in various beauty treatments to smooth out the wrinkles.
Reduces Scars and Stretch Marks
  • The fat content in cocoa butter is made of high quality linoleic acid which gives chocolates the ability to diminish fine lines, and reduce the appearance of scars and stretch marks. Chocolaty treatments help the skin to gradually regain its lost elasticity and aids in getting back one's youthful glow. Chocolate cures also protect the skin from the harmful effects of sun exposure and pollution.
Exfoliates and Nourishes
  • Application of chocolate has amazing results. It nourishes the skin while sloughing off dead skin cells. Chocolate based beauty cures help to revitalize the skin.
Finally, according to [1], chocolate stimulates the release of serotonin, a hormone that can induce feelings of peace and well being, a perfect touch for any spa or salon treatment.

More, according to :

Chocolate has appeared as an ingredient in beauty and body products since the mid-1800s, when beauty manufacturers discovered the skin softening benefits of cocoa butter. ...It's only recently, however, chocolate's benefits as a body treatment have started to undergo scientific investigation, thanks in part to scientists' discovery that consumption of chocolate can have health benefits for some people...[1].

After learning about the beauty benefits of chocolates, I was eager to experience chocolate beauty care. I noticed one such novelty--at least it was new to me--as part of a Living Social "deal" for a Hot Chocolate waxing treatment, offered at a New York City salon.

After a historically long winter spent covered-up in pants, my mid-calf-lengthed puffer coat, tights and hose, the notion of a wax treatment, with spring and summer fast approaching, seemed ideal. And a treatment -- or anything else for that matter -- that included chocolate, well, all the better. I purchased the "deal", without giving it a second thought. Discounted from $40 to about $20, I thought, if nothing else it would make for a fun tale for these, my Hot Cocoa Chronicles. But after the experience, I am pleased to say without reservation, I came away with so much more.

The salon, though not super upscale, was modern, organized and solidly appointed with things like flat-screen entertainment, luxury armchairs for pedicure and massage, nice quality and range of nail colors, and tidy and orderly treatment rooms. Clean, scrubbed with just the right amount of luxury, the salon was decorated in shades of orange, and was relaxed and comfortable. I would definitely go back for repeat and new services.

The staff and beauticians were pleasant and professional. Lisa, my very respectable, mature, beautician, who I guessed to be of Eastern European descent, definitely hooked me up!

It was my first time for a wax, but Lisa immediately put me at ease, and I remained so throughout the entire treatment. She answered my very many questions and gave great information, sharing the features and benefits of the product, chocolate wax, in a way that demonstrated her knowledge and inspired confidence.
In the treatment room, there was a kettle of molten, liquid chocolate that looked fondue-ready, complete with skewer-esque, tongue depressor-like applicators, which seemed to be just asking for marshmallows, strawberries or other tasty, drenchable morsels. Tempted to dip my finger in the waxy goo, I was called back to the task at hand when Lisa knocked, then entered the room, ready to get to work.

Flat on my back, staring at the ceiling, she went to work applying and ripping strips away. As she worked, she told me how chocolate wax was great for sensitive skin, and particularly skin of color, given its all natural qualities. This had been among the attributes of the treatment that drew me to the offer in the first place.

The product she used on this day also contained almond oil, ingredients which, together, were said to minimize redness and irritation and fully leverage the anti-inflammatory qualities of the cocoa bean. Wax infused with chocolate is also reported to offer less discomfort and a more pleasant aroma, adding to the overall sense of decadence. More, hot chocolate for waxing leaves little to no residue. For a bikini waxing procedural 101, click to learn more.

I felt I was in good hands the whole way. Lisa and I gabbed about: relationships, love and marriage; men, both, good and bad; love gone wrong and divorce. She was totally genuine, endearing and inspiring of, like the shop's name, confidence. When you're bearing it all getting waxed, confidence means a lot. Our conversation was a diversion, but Lisa's sharing added another layer of disclosure to the experience that made it memorable.

Now, perhaps, I'm making more of this than it was, (we writers tend to do that) but after a long winter, this California girl came away feeling rejuvenated, more open, ready for spring and to interact with the world. Not speaking sexually or being facetious -- it's not like I'll go streaking through Times Square orMid-town showing off "my work" to strangers -- but rather, I felt the protective boundaries created to weather the harshness of winter have permeated my psyche and anatomy until now. This experience however, has worked to exfoliate much of the facade that distanced me from the elements, the world, and people around me.

The inter-personal exchange, my vulnerability through the process and the pealing away of superfice, quite literally as well as metaphorically, have ushered in a new season of openness and hope. In a few words, it's given me a new "confidence."

Yes, spring, with all of its chocolaty goodness, has arrived in New York!

RECIPE: At-Home Chocolate Face Mask

If you can’t wait for the next Living Social or Groupon offer, and a chocolate wax or spa treatment is not in your budget, you might want to give a try to this at-home option for a chocolate mask, from [1]. To make the experience more luxurious, throw on a plush robe and slippers, turn-up your favorite music, and sip a cup of cocoa, hot or chilled chocolate dessert tea, like Tea Forte's Belgian Mint, or Coco Truffle,  Even a glass of champagne if you're really feeling indulgent will melt away any residual winter frost. After, you too, will be ready for spring in no time.

  • Mask Ingredients: 1/3 cup cocoa, 1/4 cup honey, two tbsp. heavy cream and three tsp. of oatmeal powder. Blend ingredients until well mixed. Apply gently to your face with a massaging motion so the oatmeal can exfoliate your dead skin cells. After 20 minutes, rinse your face with lukewarm water.

© 2011 Valerie Williams-Sanchez. All rights reserved.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The "Chocolat" Hottie and Hook for a MAD Man's Show.

There is an interesting, African-inspired, yin and yang-effect unfolding at the Museum of Art and Design (MAD -- Located at 2 Columbus Circle in Manhattan, at the Jerome and Simona Chazen Bulding, The Global Africa Project, is on show through May 2011, on the 3rd through 5th floors of the venue which occupies a southeastern wedge of the counter-clockwise flowing, traffic circle.

Billed as "An unprecedented exhibition exploring the broad spectrum of contemporary African art, design, and craft worldwide," the show debuted last fall and features works of more than 100 artists working in the four continents and the Caribbean, in lieu of South America.  The show aspires to survey the rich pool of new talent emerging from the African continent and its influence on artists around the world, but rather illustrates the ways in which recurrent themes, icons and techniques of the "motherland" are made once and again new, through the prism of our ever changing, evolving and shrinking Diaspora world view.

What "hooked" my attention and attendance was, of course, the topical "hook," or my interest in the film, Chocolat, (1998) which will be showing on April 22nd, as part of Cinema/Isaach de Bankole: an Unexpected Gentleman on show at the museum through April 29th.

But on this day it was the current show that had captured my attention. "Through ceramics, basketry, textiles, jewelry, furniture, and fashion, as well as selective examples of architecture, photography, painting, and sculpture, The Global Africa Project exhibition actively challenges conventional notions of a singular African aesthetic or identity, and reflects the integration of African art and design without making the usual distinctions between "professional" and "artisan,' " according to museum literature that seeks to articulate the vision of the show.

Lowery Stokes Sims, Curator, the Museum of Arts and Design, and Leslie King Hammond, Graduate Dean Emeritus, Founding Director, the Center for Race and Culture at the Maryland Institute College of Art are curators of the show that unfolds like layers from one floor to the next.

Drilling down from the fifth floor and down through the exhibit moving through the various alcoves and exhibits, the exhibit at MAD struck me, at first, as very masculine, yang-like if you will, with themes as male-friendly as "Rimology", a study in automotive tire rims and equally testosterone ladened, a set of formal and informal thrones. One such chair was welded together from vestiges of war including empty bomb shells, rusted over bullet and riffle casings. Reclaimed and repurposed "rubbish," pieces of ceramics and pottery, were the materials for another such chair.

Also very male, a costume typical of the creative wizardry of Mardi Gras also displayed the elaborate krewe outfits, embellished with feathers, and replete with pearlized beads and baubles.

More items mascuine, the totem of Romuald Hazome titled Tchin-Tchin BP!, 2010, was made of transfigured, metal, gas cans and signature portraiture from Kehinde Wiley in which renderings of current-day Black men, those more typically shown in police renderings, were re-cast as classical figures. All of the items portrayed the strength, power and mystique of the African Diaspora man.

The show is a wonderful, integrated Diaspora catch-all that told an interesting narrative of the overt and covert influences and global chord created of the continent's broad aesthetic. Algeria to South Africa, Northern Europe to Cuba, the Caribbean, North and South America, the show included artifacts that were creative, colorful and wonderfully executed, resounding with echos of a shared cultural past.

There was also a feminine energy, the yang, and elements on display with equally beautiful aspects that were "bold as love" in the words and spirit of Hendrix. With garments and hand crafts--with the exception of my beloved rag dolls-- braiding and woven artistry, the techniques that are so common place here in the U.S. showed their roots in many of the creations Made "in and out" of the U.S.A.

Notables, (at least for me) included "Superstition" by Chakaia Booker, a favorite Storm King Art Center artist. The Gee Quilting Guild story which reflected many of the values and aesthetics of the show, were from a separate installation.

Methods used were just as telling a part of the story and the scope of the show's narrative, including collage, and assemblage techniques portrayed in pieces on loan from the Heidelberg Project, in the U.S.

While Shelia Bridges' Harlem Toile de Jouy, emodied an elevated French Provincial aesthetic that whispered the profound ironies of Kara Walker's artistic and renderings which explore the violence and hidden atrocities of Southern Gentility.

With movements on multiple floors, originating from around the globe, the exhibit was a full one, demonstrating many known and a few lesser known pieces and styles. Embodying mostly contemporary, artistic works, the show demonstrated a sense of modernity that ironically was represented in many cases by appropriating, repurposing and replicating historic icons in fresh new ways, visions of a Black/African identity translated from one cultural context to the next with surprising, often whimsical, often subtly disturbing results.

There also seemed to be a conversation on sexuality examined started in a couple of the pieces. Images of women ranged from sensual, bordering and sometimes crossing the line to sexual, harkened back and supported many stereotypes.

Still more, though not a direct part of the exhibit, on the building's third story one of three "going to church" hats, were somber in black, and in contrast to Evetta Perry's other hat, entitled "Sunday Morning." The final hat, studded with rhinestones, and crafted from salmon pink and apple green straw, demonstrated an adorned spirit of "Sisterhood." Crafted from a woven texture, in bright shades, the hats also seemed to originate and to call from the same cutlural resources as those in The Global Africa Project.

In the show, dresses, kimonos and hybrid-styled frocks demonstrate the impeccable draping and stitching, the sheer artistry in crafting garments, wearable expressions of art. Masterfully designed in a range of palettes that vary wildly without undervaluing quality, many of the garments embodied an interpretation of African spirit similar to that displayed in the Broadway musical "Fela," offering "originality without artificiality," undeniable power and grace. After all, isn't that the spirit of the Diaspora: creating from spirit, turning nothing into something – magical.

© 2011 Valerie Williams-Sanchez. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"The End" Is Just the Beginning -- A Query to Essence Magazine

Attn. News Editor
Essence Magazine
New York, NY 10020

March 20, 2011

Dear Essence Magazine,
I am a long-time fan of your publication and Facebook friend. I am contacting the publication to propose a feature story about an important news issue that is of relevance to women of the African Diaspora. To that end, this is a query.

A United States-born, African-American woman, I consider myself a world citizen who has of late been reflecting on myriad angles and aspects of hot chocolate on my blog, Valerie's Vignettes at

As part of my recent exploration of hot chocolate -- a series I have dubbed affectionately as the Cocoa Chronicles -- I have learned much about the struggles of women in African regions of the international "Cocoa Belt," and more about efforts of other Africans to improve conditions for themselves and other Africans. It is an important story that I feel is worth exploring further, particularly as tensions rise in the Ivory Coast, the "Jewel of West Africa."

Here in the U.S., the notion of "lifting one's self up by one's boot-straps," is a well-known phrase. It refers to the notion and process of working independently toward self-sufficiency, a process in which education and personal responsibility are keys to empowerment.

It is in this same spirit that I have worked to inform myself, while writing, posting stories and developing my blog. Over the course of this effort, I have become aware of one particular non-governmental organization (N.G.O.) that is doing this, too, as featured in a recently published Q&A posted on my blog.

Part of what I hope will become a five part piece, "The Hot Cocoa Belt around the World" by Valerie Williams-Sanchez, seeks to inform and educate those throughout the African Diaspora about the current struggles in Ivory Coast and the important work going on in African by African peoples.

For Essence magazine, I would invite the publication to publish the piece along with yet to be written, PART V, which would include a final section, featuring original reporting on African women, who have triumphed and transcended the abuses of the Cocoa Belt and the industries it sustains.

Immediately, please feel free to visit my blog. Read the stories, including the first, Graffiti, (, a personal statement of sorts, and consider this a proposal to be retained to conduct original reporting on behalf of the publication on this topic.

I look forward to working with Essence, and to creating an informative and important entry into the volume of knowledge, awareness and activism about women of the African Diaspora.


Valerie Williams-Sanchez

(c) 2011 Valerie Williams-Sanchez. All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Hot Cocoa Belt Around the World -- Part IV

There is generally no platform which allows the women or children to escape and fight for their civil and human rights in African nations of the Cocoa Belt.

In the absence of organized labour and unions, non-profit groups dealing with this and other peripheral issues are taking a stand. Some include: an organization advocating on an international level for labor rights worldwide.

Such groups, large and small, working to put an end to human trafficking, are among the groups of growing force, raising awareness of such issues in and outside of Africa, in the U.S. and abroad. Archived stories and scholarly research abound about the atrocities of child labor and human trafficking associated with Cocoa production:

However in the countries in question, often grassroots, start-ups and Non-Government Organizations, (NGOs), particularily those of an by indigenious groups of the area, are a burgeoning force also speaking out  which can become even stronger advocates for the people directly effected.

One such organization is the Green Village Foundation, Founded in 2009 by Dr. Theo Vodounou, Green Village Foundation is a grassroots, non-government organization (NGO) which includes in its cause, bringing help to victims of labor abuses in their emancipation by promoting education in rural societies, providing micro-finance opportunities to small businesses, as well as protecting women and children against myriad forms of domestic violence, the tactic most commonly used to force children into labour.

In a recent interview, a spokesperson for the organization and son of the foundation's founder, Thierry Vodounou spoke about the implications of the current political strife and how the organization plans to achieve its goal of affecting real changes. 

Valerie's Vignettes Question: What are the specific activities the Green Village Foundation is conducting?
Green Village Foundation's Answer: Green Village Foundation (GVF) is a non-governmental and non-profit organization which partners with African communities for the betterment of the people's lives through sustainable development.  GVF's method is to empower the least privileged by teaching them to take care of themselves.  Our projects have included providing potable water, promoting girls' literacy, providing micro-finance loans to small businesses, donating machinery to farmers in order to improve productivity, and reducing desertification.

Q: What is your experience with these issues?
A: Having lived in and traveled to several African countries, I have seen that poor health and education conditions contribute to poor economic development.  When people do not know how to escape their situations, they will learn to be content with it.  That's why I believe that providing the proper resources to communities is the first steps to contribute to their sustainable development.  However, this assistance must be done in a partnership and not by patronizing the communities.  I have also learned that it is important to teach someone how to fish instead of them giving a meal constantly.

Q: What type of resistance does your organization face in Africa?
A: The first resistance is political: no organization can succeed in Africa without working closely with governmental agencies.  But with the level of corruption in the governments, one has to develop reliable connections.  Other resistances include people's fear of changes for psychological or traditional reasons.  

Q: What are the latest developments in the political situation and Cocoa Industry in the Ivory Coast?
A: Currently, the Ivory Coast is in an unusual post-electoral situation where the two presidential candidates declared themselves winners, and therefore are governing with two separate cabinets.  However, the incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, who, according to the official results acknowledged by the UN and the international community, lost the election, is the one who controls the national army.  The official winner Allassane Ouattara also has a smaller army on his side.  The two groups have lately been engaging in military conflicts, which hurt the civilians.  In addition to the economic embargo on oil, cocoa and cafe, one of the strategies employed by Ouattara to push Gbagbo out of power is to asphyxiate him economically.  If Gbagbo is no longer able to afford paying the state workers and the military backing him, he will be pushed out eventually.  Thus, Ouattara has banned the export of cocoa out of the country since January 23rd.  This is significant to the world cocoa markets as the Ivory Coast is the world top producer with 40% of the global production.  If the stalemate continues, the cocoa price will continue to trend higher.  Today the cocoa futures for May delivery rose to $3,858 a metric ton.  This commodity price has surged over 28% since the November 2010 election.  In addition, there are major concerns of cocoa smuggling across the borders into Ghana in order to sell the product. 

Q: Please explain what a nationalized Cocoa industry will do for Ivory Coast and the Region of exporters?
A: With all the uncertainty around the cocoa markets it's hard to predict exactly what will happen with this recent decision by the incumbent president Gbagbo to nationalize all cocoa trade activities.  There is no indication of how Gbagbo's government will finance those buy-sell transactions, since his government is not officially recognized globally.  Essentially, the state will carry the trades that were done by the multinationals. The cocoa industry is a $4.5 bln one in the Ivory Coast.  It will be challenging for the incumbent's government play the role of a vibrant private sector.   Will traders on the other side be sanctioned for doing business with his government?  We know that this decision will not stop the increase of the cocoa prices in financial markets.  In the meantime, cocoa is being traded in other producing countries in the Cocoa Belt.

Q: As a financial analyst and treasurer of your organization, what are your thoughts on current and future impact the cocoa embargo will have on development in the area?
A: Farmers in the Ivory Coast are negatively affected as they are not able to liquidate their crops.  Traders and observers are concerned that if the embargo lasts into the next harvest season which begins in May, there will be higher risk and volatility in the cocoa markets worldwide.  I believe that the cocoa export ban will increase trade volumes in Ghana, which borders the Ivory Coast.  However, they will be increased smuggling of cocoa across borders.  The global cocoa industry is suffering from this crisis as major chocolate processors are affected by the 32 year-high in the cocoa price.  Further, the crisis will benefit neighboring countries as the two major Ivorian ports, San Pedro and Abidjan banned from trading activities.  The ports in Ghana, Togo and Benin will continue to see increased volume in business and thus help the respective economies.

Q: What agribusinesses exist in Africa?
A: The agribusiness is developed in Africa, but it is dominated by multinational corporations, mainly American, European and Asian ones.  The African players are not strong enough to impose themselves or move the markets.  Some African-owned firms include Emvest of South Africa, Wilbahi Investments Ltd of Nigeria, Export Trading Company Ltd. of Kenya and Giwa Farms Ltd. of Nigeria.  The large corporations like Nestle, Cargill and Kraft dominate the agribusiness in Africa.  

Q: More, how do you think the issue will shape regional and global politics in the immediate future?
A: Traders will continue to speculate on the prices of the cocoa commodities securities as the crisis persists.  International buyers will change their strategies to hedge their losses.  This could mean executing commodity risk management strategies, buying cocoa from other countries with less political risks.  That would also affect revenues and production if buyers have to modify their chocolate processing based on the types and quality of beans they were inputting before the crisis.  However, the Ivory Coast has enough stock of cocoa for probably the rest of the year, and that could be sold once the export ban ends.  Politically, the Ivory Coast is in a difficult position as it has in a way isolated itself.  Neighboring countries are treading carefully as they are afraid to take sides given vis-à-vis the two presidents, even though the African Union has officially recognized Ouattara and asked Gbagbo to step down.  In this crisis, the Ivorian economy has lost at least 10 years of development since the crisis started in 2000.  This political instability puts the country, which has always been a respectable economic power in the region, in a place where other regional nations will question its political power and relevance.  Some African leaders are quiet of the matter because they see themselves as potential usurpers of power, just like Gbagbo.  On the global scale, the international community includes the E.U. and the U.S. have clearly shown their supports for Ouattara.  Bilateral affairs with the countries will be halted until the crisis ends, i.e. Gbagbo is ousted.  Given that the Ivory Coast is a significant partner in the region and in the world, the foreign ties will be restored adequately after the crisis.

Q: How does the issue and current situation in Egypt and Libya impact the cocoa issue?
A: I think that current political situations in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have shown the world and Africans in particular, that the people can shift political power with their voices.  We have yet to see if the energy seen in Northern Africa can be seen in countries like Ivory Coast, where people take on their oppressing governments regardless of the violence and abuse exercised on them.

Q: Why hasn't more attention been paid in the U.S. to this issue, in your opinion?
A: I think the U.S. takes position based on its political and economic interests around the world.  More attention has been devoted toward the Northern African crises because of the U.S. ties to the Middle East in the case of Tunisia and Egypt, and because of the oil and Qadaffi in Libya.  Of course the Ivorian crisis is one of concern to the U.S. because of its impact in the region, but its significance is not like that of the Northern African situations.

Q: There are by and large few if any African Companies involved in the actual business of chocolate manufacture.
A: That is correct.  Most of the chocolate manufacturers are based in South Africa, but others are in West Africa.  However, they are not large corporations like multinationals.

Q: What is the presence of African based agribusiness in West Africa?
A: There are some small to mid-size companies in the Ivory Coast like Sidcao, ETS Nouriat, Cabinsi; in Ghana like Afua Kds Enterprise; others in Benin and Togo.  Most of those companies make candies, cocoa butter and cocoa cakes.  Few of them make chocolate like the large multinational firms.

(c) 2011 Valerie Williams-Sanchez. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Hot Cocoa Belt Around the World -- Part III

Sowing a Bitter Harvest

Picked from the trees in which they grow, cocoa pods are plucked using cacao hooks and their beans harvested by hand. A single pod yields only 20 to 40 individual cocoa beans. Mounds of beans are then moved into slatted containers known as "sweating boxes," where they ferment, are then dried, washed and sacked for shipping. Nearly 400 cocoa beans are needed to yield one pound of chocolate. More than 600,000 tons, are typically consumed worldwide, putting small armies of women and children to work enduring long days of physical work.

March 8, 2011 marked the centennial anniversary of International Women's Day. The day was marked by celebrations worldwide of the myriad accomplishments made by women. And while the strides are many, on the African continent in particular, work is still sorely needed to address the ills of gender inequality, marginalization and social injustice currently endured by women throughout the region.

In West African enclaves of the Cocoa Belt, which rely on women and children as a cheap workforce for the labor intensive industry, there has been reported a rise in child trafficking, and an increase in prostitution and domestic abuse. Reports count more than 12,000 children have been trafficked into cocoa farms in Ivory Coast for the purposes of carrying out the work involved in harvesting the cocoa beans which make up nearly 40% of the world's supply.

Typically, children who prefer to go to school are made to work, forced through physical abuse, including threats, beating and starvation. Tactics also used on as are women. With communities reliant upon the industry, local societies dependent on the cheap workforce turn a blind eye and a cold shoulder to such abuses that are pervasive and all too common.

As tensions rise in this the second month of a country-wide ban on the sale of cocoa beans in the Ivory Coast, much of the violence prevalent in the Eastern part of the continent threatens to encroach upon the West. The simmering conflict between forces loyal to Gbagbo and Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner of November's presidential vote, has left at least 365 dead since December, according to CNN reports.

And things could get worse before they get better. Amid speculation that cocoa purchases and exports in Ivory Coast would now be carried out “exclusively" by the state, according to reports from the Financial Times, industry officials expressed doubt that such a plan could work.

Eric Sivry, at Marex Financial, the London-based commodities brokerage, told Financial Times, that one of the biggest questions was who would buy “contentious cocoa” from the rebel government. Already heavily taxed, cocoa in Ivory Coast is a key source of income for Mr. Gbagbo, who pays out $150m a month to civil servants and the military, according to diplomats.

In Ivory Coast's largest city, at least seven women were killed during a peaceful demonstration by women in Abidjan last week, and at least one person was shot by Gbagbo's troops during new clashes Monday, according to CNN reports. These events, in turn, drew another march by women protesting the killings, as men supporting Ouattara marched alongside the women to protect them.

More to come...

(c) 2011 Valerie Williams-Sanchez

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Hot Cocoa Belt Around the World -- Part II

Ivory Coast and other West African countries, while perhaps the more prolific countries of the Cocoa trade, they are not alone.  Ghana and Nigeria, are also key players in Africa. Elsewhere, other cocoa bean producing countries that make up the world's "cacao belt" include Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Colombia, the Caribbean islands, Jamaica, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka.

Throughout the 'Cocoa belt" there are three main families of cacao trees, respectively. From Africa, the Forastero type of bean, which accounts for 85% of the world's supply, originates from the Upper Amazon. This type of bean has a robust, full-bodied and pronounced flavor.


In Mexico and South America, the Criollo bean is most prominent, known for its exceptional quality, aroma, and flavor. This bean unlike other types of cocoa is, according to internet sources, nearly without bitterness, a quality that makes it a favorite among luxury chocolate makers. It is a bean that is considered rare, and therefore commands premium pricing. It is the type of bean used almost exclusively for the production of Grand Cru chocolates, those carrying the designation which signifies that the beans in a bar all come from a certain plantation in a particular country or region. Since the introduction in the 1980's of Grand Cru as a marketing moniker, the term Premier Cru also has been added to denote an even higher level of quality.

Combining the characteristic robustness of the Forestero and delicate flavor of the criollo types of beans, the Trinitario cocoa bean is a hybrid named for the island of Trinidad. All three types of bean come from cocoa trees, bringing truth to the notion that chocolate grows on trees. But the path from cocoa bean to chocolate bar is a long and labor intensive journey from the tree which typically grows in humid, tropical regions, between 10 degrees north and 10 degrees south of the equator.

The cocoa tree, also called the cacao palm and the chocolate tree, is dependent on ambient heat and humidity. Very fragile, the tree often grows in the shade. Cocoa tree fruit, which are called and resemble pods, presents a rather startling appearance, as it grows right on the tree trunk. A pod weighs between 7 to 27 ounces, and takes 5 to 6 months to reach maturity.

More to come...

(c) 2011 Valerie Williams-Sanchez

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Hot Cocoa Belt Around the World

And again on this day there is snow!  The banks of black snow and ice have again been dusted over, made magical by a respectable layer of flakes. Puddles, which had begun to form during the three days of dryness and relative warmth, are again made crystalline, where they formed in walkways and thorough fares through out Manhattan and the suburbs of North Bergen, New Jersey.

A Parisian chocolate is on the list to try tonight, when lights from the George Washington Bridge will shine, creating the sort of romantic landscape and ambience one might find in a café on the banks of the River Seine near Paris in France.  But here in America, I am looking to the waters of the Hudson, towards the Atlantic and dreaming across the pond, of chocolate … Ah, the chocolate!

On these shores, on this day, chocolate is the stuff of romantic musings and moments of comfort. While on yet other shores of the other side of the grand Atlantic pond, cocoa and the business of cocoa beans conjures up thoughts of political volatility, civil unrest and human exploitation.  


Ivory Coast is the world’s largest producer of cocoa, the essential part of chocolate and most chocolate products. Its geographic neighbor, Ghana, which ranks second, leads in Europe for its cocoa which is prized for its quality. This means that the aggregate swath of West African soil, according to internet sources, grows the majority of the world's cocoa, according to internet sources at .

Not a new phenomenon, the same internet sources report, Africa is expected to remain the world's leading cocoa producing area into the next decade. With cocoa bean production in the Ivory Coast, expected to show growth of 2.3 percent a year from 1.2 million tonnes to 1.6 million tones, once at this level, production will account for approximately 44 percent of global cocoa.

The industry in West Africa imports cocoa and cocoa beans out of the continent, for manufacture and packaging in other countries, fuels governments and their military.

At lest they did until recently when, much like in Egypt, the incumbent failed to vacate the office following his defeat in democratic elections held last November.  Mr. Laurent Gbagbo lead an unsuccessful bid for reelection, yet remains in power.  In an effort to provoke his ouster, Alassan Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner of the November presidential elections, imposed a ban on Jan. 23 initiated to force Mr. Gbagbo out of the post by undermining funding from the export Mr. Gbagbo utilizes to pay his servants and supporters in the military.

Driven by unrest in the region, the commodity has gained 25 percent since late November and continued to climb since the boycott began. Bloomberg sources report the commodity has reached prices, per metric ton comparable only to levels seen in 1979. At date, cocoa beans had reached pricing upwards of USD $3,586 a metric ton.

More to come…

(c) 2011 Valerie Williams-Sanchez

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Hot, Hot Cocoa, Everywhere!

It's been a sinfully sweet few weeks and months through which I have sipped, dipped and slurped. It seems hot chocolate is even more plentiful than I had first imagined, with iterations that are limited only by those doing the pouring. In private places and commercial spots, too, chocolate has been abundant.

When I'd headed out of JFK airport for my recent trip to California, a kiosk featuring Illy Italian Coffee products offered the special of the day, a "Zebra" Hot Chocolate that was concocted with milk and white chocolate hot cocoa, while a "Morocchio," hot chocolate with a shot of espresso and whipped cream, rounded out the menu.

Heading to the warmth, I thought the chocolate would pause, but even out and about in the Southern California sunshine, the warmth didn't stop the ubiquitous beverage, or me from indulging my sweet tooth.

At Jamba Juice, I found hot cocoa took a healthy spin, with soy. I didn't order it as such but found the subtle flavor twist one that kept me guessing what the secret spice could be. At first, I thought the splash of flavor was an unexpected splash of smoothie residue. Turns out, it was soy, and delicious.

Even at the home of Auntie Chrissy, who strangely, does not like chocolate -- how are we related again? -- we were treated to Keurig pods o' hot chocolate brewed barista style, in the signature, high tech and equally high-styled, espresso-press machine. Her cups were brewed with water, rather than milk, and noted a mellow sweetness which, like California itself, was refreshing and light.

Hot chocolate, the result of melted chocolate, and its cousin, hot cocoa, the marriage of cocoa powder and warmed milk or other liquid, are multi-generational crowd-pleasers that everyone from myself to my mother, a retiree, has testified to including on her "beverage of choice" line up. Our cases notwithstanding, it seems golden-agers with dietary restriction look to the chocolaty libation as a delectable treat still to be enjoyed despite lifestyles that increasingly include daily medications, different than over-the-counter drink offers with alcohol. Also, for those with diabetes, sugar-free hot chocolate, particularily if topped with equally sugarless creams, mallows or other toppings, is the perfect  indulgence.  And for those who don't "do" caffeine, by mandate or choice, variations of hot chocolate can be looked to as alternatives to coffees and often any similarily charged, caffeine-loaded, brewed teas.

It was fun to share a cup of cocoa -- instead of coffee -- during a visit with my mom. During the visit, she, my now 15-year-old little girl and I sat and gabbed, telling each other stories of the latest family what's up, high school gossip download, and community scuttle-butt.

Reminiscent and rich, Mom's hot chocolate of choice was a traditional cup of Swiss Miss made with whole milk, the same blend my daughter spiked, in her cup, with jumbo marshmallows. Old fashioned, and fun, I thought the choices were clearly those indicative of the purests they are. Their choices paired perfectly with conversation that was equally warm and up beat.

Now returned to the Eastern cold, after the visits to my native Southern California last week and its 80 degree weather, it is again flurrying, here, in the North. When will it end? Puxatauwney Phil, the sage groundhog with mystical powers of weather devination, recently promised Spring's arrival would come sooner rather than later. But whenever the season does arrive, it will still be too far off for this sun worshiper's druthers.

Meanwhile, and true to my goal at the start of the season, I am meeting Mother Nature's coldest and snowiest with chocolate. Today, thinking back and conjuring up the warmth of the people and places of a few weeks ago, I opted for a chocolate on chocolate, "triple chocolate suicide." That equals hot chocolate topped with chocolate whipped cream and sprinkled with chocolate shavings. Perhaps less creative than cups crafted on previous days, I took the less (ingredients) is more approach on this one. You'll feel like a kid again, slip-slurping the decadent, nearly saccharin-sweet delight.

Make the moment complete, and indulge your inner child. Consider this idea for a blistery northern winter day like today, or even a comfy Cali night. Curl up with a cups cocoa for yourself, others and kids. Then read a story to a child. If you don't have a favorite story of your own, consider one of these. With just a few cups and a book, you can create a new memory of life at its very sweetest.
  • "Good Night Moon", by Margaret Wise Brown;
  • "Glad Monster, Sad Monster", by Anne Miranda;
  • "Young Cornrows Callin' Out the Moon", by Ruth Forman;
  • "My Skin Is Brown", by Paula DeJoie; 
  • "The Snow Day", by Ezra Jack Keats;
  • "The Very Hungry Caterpillar", by Eric Carl; and
  • "95 Kilos of Hope", by Anna Gavalda.
Which book title would you add to this list?


(c) 2011 Valerie Williams-Sanchez