Craig Graziano

The Film Club by David Gilmour

The Film Club by David Gilmour

When David Gilmour's son decided to drop out of high school, his father could have screamed at the top of his lungs about ruining one's future and the misery of being a lifelong freeloader. Instead he created The Film Club.

Fifteen-year-old Jesse could leave school under a couple of conditions. One: he had to avoid getting involved with drugs. Two: he had to watch three movies a week with his father, a former film critic. Dad picked the films, and all Jesse had to do was pay attention. What followed is one of the riskiest experiments in alternative education I have ever seen. Was David 100% sure this was an ideal solution? Heck no, but he thought it was worth a try.

True Blue by Deborah Ellis

True Blue by Deborah Ellis

You know how the female praying mantis bites the head off of the male? That was one of Casey's favorite things. As a future entomologist, she adored insects. She even copied the head chomp with a little hand signal. The signal meant that someone was really getting on your nerves, and you'd really love to just stop them in their tracks. That was before the murder trial.

True Blue, by Deborah Ellis, follows the arrest of high school senior Casey White from the point of view of her best friend Jess. The two girls have been inseparable for most of their lives, and Casey was planning on spending the next year studying insects in Australia.

Grandpa Green by Lane Smith

Grandpa Green by Lane Smith

In Grandpa Green, Lane Smith tells the story of one man's life through his passion. Topiary gardeners shape bushes and trees into fantastic sculptures of whatever they desire. We meet Grandpa Green as a gigantic bushy baby, sprinkling tears with the words, "He was born a really long time ago," beneath.

We go on to explore Grandpa's life through the garden, with different sculptures illustrating each step in his life. He grows up on a farm, escapes into the wonder of tales like The Wizard of Oz, goes to war, and starts a family. Smith combines the lush greens of the topiary scultpures with very thin black lines for tree trunks, branches, animals in the garden, and the great-grandson who narrates the story. That choice allows the sculptures to pop off the page like a vibrant special effect.

33 1/3 Series

33 1/3 series

I am an addict...and my addiction is popular music. I adore it. Who doesn't? We all have our favorite songs, artists, genres. The right track at the right moment can hit us emotionally or physically, make us weep or dance. What I like almost as much as music are all of the details and stories that lead up to the making of some of my most cherished albums. That's where the 33 1/3 series comes in.

Started in 2003 by editor David Barker, 33 1/3 is a collection where each volume examines the allure of a particular album as well as the artist who recorded it.  Named after the number of revolutions on an LP record, the series spans rock, hip-hop, folk, metal, pop, country, dance, punk, electronica, and world. There is something here for everyone. 

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy

While I was complaining to my parents about having to leave Los Angeles, a chemist in China was narrowly escaping arrest, and a Hungarian physicist was perfecting the ability to freeze time. I was drawn, through Benjamin and his father, into the web of what they have created.

What author Maile Meloy has created in The Apothecary is the incredibly enchanting adventure of Janie Scott. It is 1952, and Cold War paranoia has infiltrated Hollywood where Janie's folks have been accused of having Communist ties. Once Janie notices the men in dark suits following her home from school, it is not long before she and her parents have fled America for London.

Jeremy Draws a Monster by Peter McCarty

Jeremy Draws a Monster by Peter McCarty

Jeremy Draws a Monster never gets too scary. The beast in question has some horns and is a bit of a snaggletooth, but his eyes are too tiny to be that threatening. Still, this monster is this one rude dude. Jeremy seemed to just want a friend to play with. He stays inside while other children play soccer. So he takes a fancy pen and draws this creature creation.

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

Bears have much in common with people. We're both mammals. We're both omnivores. We are protective of our young. Also, if a bear happens to lose something very important, they will search for it. Especially if that something is their hat.

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen is a clear-cut observation of a bear in his natural habitat, asking other animals if they have seen his missing prized possession.

What that description did not tell you is how unbelievably charming and oddball Klassen has made this story. Bear, standing upright, interrogates a different animal. Nearly every conversation is alike. No one has seen his hat and bear retorts, "OK. Thank you anyway." before he goes on to the next creature. The whole thing reads like a classic comedy bit.

Outlaw by Stephen Davies

Outlaw by Stephen Davies

Jake Knight seems to have it all. He's a fifteen-year-old technology whiz who can jump a ten-foot wall with his parkour skills. He's enrolled in a nice British school, and his dad is an ambassador to the small West African country of Burkina Faso. To Jake, Africa is a land of excitement and adventure...and he will soon learn that it is also the land of the Outlaw.

Jake thinks his boarding school life is pretty lame and spends his time playing Geothimble, a scavenger hunt that uses GPS technology.  When Jake's extracurricular activity gets him suspended, he is sent to his father's embassy. Jake could not be happier, but little does he know that he's about to get enough excitement to last a lifetime.

I'd Really Like to Eat a Child by Sylviane Donnio and illustrated by Dorothee de Monfreid

I'd Really Like to Eat a Child by Sylviane Donnio

If only I had read I'd Really Like to Eat a Child when I was small, life would have been so much easier.

This is not because I fell victim to some carnivorous beastie that could only be satisfied with devouring yours truly--though once I was surrounded by a ferocious herd of petting-zoo goats. Rather, I might have understood the importance of eating whatever my parents told me to.

I am a former picky eater. Fruits and vegetables were not my bag, and hot dogs reigned supreme. One time I even threw a stuffed pepper out the window. Fortunately, time has passed, and I began to appreciate the foods that I once avoided. But I know how the little crocodile Achilles feels when he rejects his parents' meal of freshly-picked bananas. "Today, I'd really like to eat a child."

Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Adam Rex

Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Adam Rex

Chloe and the Lion is not about a young girl facing off with a ferocious feline, no matter what the title says. Sure, Chloe's present, saving up her nickels and dimes to ride the merry-go-round. She does, in fact, spin around that ride so many times that she gets dizzy and lost in the nearby woods. It is at that very point that Chloe should meet a lion. Instead, a large, ferocious, winged, burgundy dragon steps out.

Writing a picture book is hard work. You must have a solid story, likable characters, and the right choice of words. What's more, this delicate balance can be completely thrown out of whack by a maverick illustrator who thinks that "a dragon would be cooler."