Books by Debbi Chocolate

EL BARRIO by Debbi Chocolate
Released: April 1, 2009

In the barrio lives a boy whose sister is getting ready for her quinceañera. Using the coming-of-age festival for its narrative structure, the book is really a celebration of Latino culture and life in the city, Chocolate's minimal text giving the boy voice as he describes his home: "El barrio is silver-streaked tenements, / neon city streets, / storefront churches, / and bodegas that never sleep." The vibrant illustrations combine woodcuts, painting and collage, all seemingly jumbled together in a riotous blend of color and texture. Depictions of other Latino celebrations and sprinklings of Spanish words add to the beautiful chaos of the illustrations. A collage frame composed of such material as beads, pebbles or tile surrounds each page, informing the composition of the interior image. Color, action and feeling are of utmost importance here and together create a dazzling, flamboyant impression of urban Latino life, bringing Diaz's work to a whole new level. A glossary gives phonetic pronunciations of Spanish words used in the text as well as defining those words. Highly recommended for all collections. (Picture book. 4-8)Read full book review >
THE PIANO MAN by Debbi Chocolate
Released: Feb. 1, 1998

Chocolate (Kente Colors, 1996, etc.) refers to her grandfather as the man behind this story, but this memory piece about a pianist in the days of silent films and vaudeville comes with the standard disclaimer—that all the characters and events are fictitious. A narrator talks about her grandfather, who gave the audiences of silent movies the appropriate thrills with his piano music, teamed up for dancing with his wife, and then returned to the movie theater when his daughter was born. It's an appealing story, but young readers won't make much sense of Florenz Ziegfeld, Jelly Roll Morton, and Scott Joplin's cameo appearances. The text is flawed by an anachronism—Phantom of the Opera was not produced as a musical until 1943, so a pianist would not have played themes from it to accompany silent movies—as well as a musical improbability. Joplin would not have encouraged a ``lightning-fast Maple Leaf Rag,'' since this most famous of his pieces was the one most often butchered by the ``speed'' players of his day, and he customarily published this warning at the head of his composition: ``Notice! Don't play this piece fast. It is never right to play `rag-time' fast.'' Velasquez provides expressive but flawed paintings, e.g., in one scene, the black piano keys are grouped incorrectly, and in another, the tuba player's arm and the trumpet's valves are missing. For such a charming story, it's unfortunate that so many of these details are wrong. (Picture book. 5-8) Read full book review >
KENTE COLORS by Debbi Chocolate
Released: March 30, 1996

As Chocolate (My First Kwanzaa Book, 1992, not reviewed, etc.) states in her introduction, kente is a bright, colorful cloth made by the Ashante and the Ewe in Ghana and Togo. The text consists of short, loose rhymes—a line per page—describing the various colors of the cloth, and explaining some of their symbolic significance. The rich illustrations depict people wearing garments of different colors in a variety of contexts (work, wedding, etc.). These group portraits under generally African skies interpret the rhymes in a realistic and thoughtful way; simply composed tableaux convey a consistently strong sense of people and landscapes. (Picture book. 4-8) Read full book review >