Craig Graziano

Cooking With Henry and Elliebelly by Carolyn Parkhurst and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino

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!!!”

Word Nerd by Susin Nielsen

For most of us, peanuts don’t usually conjure up thoughts of sickness and death, but for Ambrose Bukowski that’s all they have to offer. The main character of Susin Neilsen’s Word Nerd has a serious allergy, but his real problem is the fact that he’s so awkward. His classmates tease him nonstop for the way he acts, the way he dresses, and the things he says. When they hide a peanut in his sandwich at lunch, the hospital visit afterwards convinces his overprotective mother to homeschool Ambrose.

One day Ambrose meets his landlord’s son Cosmo, who just got out of prison. You might not think that a nerdy kid and a twenty-something ex-con would have anything in common, but the game of Scrabble works in mysterious ways.
 
Ambrose hates Cosmo’s smoking habit and tattoos, and Cosmo doesn’t want to be seen with Ambrose when he’s wearing his lucky purple pants. Still, these two unlikely friends try to make things better for themselves, the only way they know how. But how can they play together when Ambrose’s mom won’t let him near Cosmo? And why does a scary-looking guy named Silvio keep showing up in front of their house, asking for Cosmo?

Struts & Frets by Jon Skovron

Sammy Bojar plays guitar in Tragedy of Wisdom with a frightening and talentless lead singer (guess which member chose the name). Most of their practices end in a ragin' tantrum. It looks like a dead-end situation for Sammy and his crew, until a battle of the bands competition gives them a possible chance to record a song for radio play. As Sammy struggles to gain control of his songwriting career, he is helped by his paranoid jazz pianist grandfather and his old best friend/new girlfriend, Jen5. 

Jon Skovron’s debut novel Struts & Frets manages to be authentic in its language and characterization every step of the way. The book is littered with the sort of phrases and people that I can swear I heard and met in high school and at local concerts when I was a teen, right down to the friend who can play video game theme songs with his sweaty, sweaty hand-farts.

A Whole Nother Story by Dr. Cuthbert Soup

There are a lot of stories out there: boy wizards, girl detectives, wimpy kids, and underpantsed captains. Despite the many possibilities and and numerous titles to read, there may be that ever-lurking fear that there is not a story out there for you. In this is the case, you might want to avoid a panic attack by taking a note from Dr. Cuthbert Soup, head of the National Center for Unsolicited Advice. If you are so brave and wise to follow Soup’s advice, you will be handsomely rewarded with A Whole Nother Story.

This particular tale revolves around inventor Ethan Cheeseman and his three children, who are on the run from a madcap menagerie of pursuers: Secret agents known only by different numbers, evil corporations, a Russian spy and his extremely talented chimp (for one thing, he can speak yak). All of these sundry types wish to get their hands on Cheeseman’s latest creation: A time machine.

Ghosts in the House! by Kazuno Kohara

A young girl and her cat enter a dark, old, ramshackle house. Ghosts are waiting for her there. As she opens the door they all fly out. This is where the fun begins in Kazuno Kohara’s Ghosts in the House!

The book dodges a potentially frightening situation by having the little girl don a witch hat and immediately contain the ghosts. She washes them out and uses them as helpful household items like tablecloths and curtains. Our main character is not only brave, but friendly too, and the ghosts enjoy assisting her throughout her daily tasks.
 
The charm of the book comes from the simple text combined with bold illustrations. The limited use of color (orange, black, and white) allows the pictures to jump off the page and create a powerful Halloween world for you to enter. White ghosts have a texture and dimension as if someone had stamped them onto the pages with a wood block. All of these stylistic choices make the book feel like a hidden gem from the 1950’s, when really it was only published a couple of years ago. Kohara followed her debut picture book with one that may be worth checking out in a couple of months, the equally delightful Here Comes Jack Frost.
 
Looking for a children’s book that will evoke the spooky fun of Halloween without scaring the younger ones? Kazuno Kohara’s Ghosts in the House! has it all.

I Love You, Beth Cooper by Larry Doyle

The awkwardness, the loneliness, the humiliation and the anxiety...high school has it all for you. This is one of the messages in Larry Doyle’s devilishly witty debut novel I Love You, Beth Cooper. On graduation day, Denis Cooverman makes those five words the basis of his valedictorian speech, declaring his love to that perfect girl that he constantly sat behind…but never actually spoke to. 

Sure, she was the head cheerleader and he was the debate team captain. And sure, she hung out with a posse of foxy young women while he spent his high school years with his obsessively movie-quoting buddy Richard Munsch. And it's an absolute fact that Denis cannot hold a conversation without constantly peppering it with random bits of inane knowledge. But after high school, none of that should matter anymore...right? 

It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

This past weekend, the film adaptation of Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story opened in theaters across the country. Vizzini’s book centers on a smart teenager named Craig Gilner, who has had growing issues of anxiety and depression since joining an extremely selective, intense private high school in Manhattan. After obsessively studying and getting a perfect score on the entrance exam, Craig finds himself in way over his head, drowning in a sea of labs and math equations. Partying and pining for his best friend’s girl doesn’t help matters either.

Craig can’t sleep or eat. During an especially fitful day, he makes a decision to call 1-800-SUICIDE. Their suggestion for him to check into an emergency room brings Craig to Six North, a Brooklyn psychiatric hospital...for adults. There Craig finds a collection of people at least twice his age with a variety of mental issues. Strangely enough, he finds it incredibly easy to make friends. Craig starts to compare his issues to his new peers, and finds life in Six North to be simultaneously simpler and more complicated than his regular life. His own evaluation of life, friendships, and his doctors help to push Craig in a better direction.

I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President by Josh Lieb

Let’s face it, people--this vampire craze might just be on its way out. Passé. Gone from undead to dead again. A new kind of hero has been taking their place. A powerful being with brains, creativity, and money on his side.  This is a new kind of hero for the ages: The Super-villain.

Josh Lieb’s new book, “I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President,” does not deal with a Lex Luthor from Superman or a Gru from Despicable Me. His main character, Oliver Watson, is still in the seventh grade, but his secret criminal empire is so strong that by the time he turns 18, world domination will be no big deal. In the meantime, he’s playing dumb….really dumb. From his peers to his parents, no one suspects that the class moron has been acting this whole time.

Henry in Love by Peter McCarty

In Peter McCarty's Henry in Love, magic can be found in the simplest pleasures of an ordinary school day. The main character gets ready for school and decides that this is the day that he is going to talk to the loveliest girl in the class. Perfect cartwheels, games of tag, and the sharing of afternoon snacks follow. 

The look of McCarty's characters is quite special. The illustrations are reminiscent of two children's classics. Henry and his classmates, all animals, recall the characters from Rosemary Wells' Max and Ruby books, but with smaller eyes and a less cartoony demeanor. They look sweet without treading into cutesy territory. The wide margins and very selective use of color reminds one of Ian Falconer's Olivia books. 

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

What would happen if you met someone who had the exact same name as you? Would you examine them, looking for any similarities and differences desperately trying to figure the other one out? Two high school students from suburban Chicago are about to find out, and both of them are Will Grayson in Will Grayson, Will Grayson  by John Green and David Levithan.

One lives by two rules: 1. Don’t care too much. 2. Shut Up. By following them, Will has made it through life without too many bruises. Unfortunately, his best friend Tiny Cooper is royally wrecking everything for him. Royal is appropriate for Tiny, a gigantic queen who just happens to be the school’s best football player and the writer/director/star of his own biographic musical, Tiny Dancer. This, along with Tiny’s constant attempts to get Will to go out with their mutual friend Jane, is exactly the kind of attention that Will does not want.