Cooking with Henry and Elliebelly, written by Carolyn Parkhust and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino, is a culinary blast of imagination as two siblings present a cooking show. Henry is your host, and two-year-old Eleanor (Elliebelly is definitely a snappier stage name) helps out…sort of. They’ve got spatulas, they’ve got a theme song, and they know what they are cooking today. Henry instructs his viewers with a cool professional expertise that you just don’t always see on the Food Network: “There are two ways you can make barbecued banana bacon: you can start with bacon and add bananas, or you can start with bananas and add bacon. It’s really up to you.”
Elliebelly gets on Henry’s nerves at times, but for the most part he is incredibly flexible with this sister’s demands. When she insists that they wear pirate hats instead of chef hats, Henry agrees for the sake the show. Only when she throws her doll into the bowl (“Baby Anne go swimming!”) does Henry really lose his cool.
The children’s interpretation of television is satirical, but lacks any sort of cynicism due to Henry and Elliebelly’s positive energy. When it comes time for the commercials, they offer a rapid-fire sales pitch, hawking cars, giraffes, rockets, and pudding. Elliebelly demands that viewers buy these items, “Nownownownownow!!!”
Dan Yaccarino’s visual style helps convey all that enthusiasm and excitement. He has Elliebelly wearing fairy wings throughout the whole book, her smiling mouth wide open (except in the aftermath of Baby Anne’s swimming incident). I also loved the drawings of the pets, from the dog that happily laps up a spilled pink liquid to the emotionless hamster who skulks by every now and then. That hamster must be thinking, “Please, whatever you do, do not put me in that mixing bowl.”
I would watch Cooking with Henry and Elliebelly every night if I could, leaving Iron Chef and Bobby Flay by the wayside. Until they get that show, I’ll stick to the book.