One (Truly) Impossible Cooking Show Before Breakfast

h1 November 4th, 2010 by jules

“Hello! I’m Henry, and this is my little sister, Eleanor, but I like to call her Elliebelly. Welcome to our show, Cooking with Henry and Elliebelly. COOKING!…”
(Click to enlarge spread.)

I’ve been sitting on these illustrations and sketches for a while now, so let’s get right to it. I bring to you this morning with great enthusiasm and a not-so-humble opinion:

Seven Reasons Why Cooking with Henry and Elliebelly is one of the Funniest Picture Books I’ve Seen in 2010:

Overview: In this title, written by Carolyn Parkhurst and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino and released from Feiwel & Friends at the end of last month, Henry and his little sister, Eleanor, whom he likes to call Elliebelly, have gathered up some toys and are pretend-filming their own pretend-show, Cooking with Henry and Elliebelly. THEY EVEN HAVE A THEME SONG. (This made me laugh, so I’m yelling it, but I’m not doing a good job of merely overview’ing here, so let me get back on track.) Where was I?…Setting out to show folks how to make raspberry-marshmallow-peanut butter waffles with barbecued banana bacon, things start to go awry. The problem with the show’s production is that Elliebelly is but a wee lass who likes to have things done her way, as toddlers do. Arguments ensue. (“Now before we get started with our recipes, we need to put on our chef hats,” to which Elliebelly responds, “No chef hat. Pirate hat…NO CHEF HAT! PIRATE HAT!”) The children’s mother, who is never seen but who pipes up occcasionally in the form of speech balloons, tries to intervene (“Work it out, you two”), but things only get worse, prompting Henry to hold up a poster (in one laugh-outloud spread) that says, in chicken-scratch kid-writing, “we’ll be right back,” while Elliebelly is in the background screaming bloody murder. Stopping for a commercial (“Buy a car! Buy a giraffe! Buy a rocket ship! Buy some pudding! NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW!!! Nownownownownow!!!“), Henry finally “cooks” the meal (mind you, he’s stuffing some toys in a box) and tells Elliebelly it’s time to eat. (“EATING! I HELP!”) Elliebelly, who sees no actual food on their plates, starts protesting the pretend food, when their mother calls them into the dining room for some “real waffles.”

And now, as I said, are my…

Seven Reasons Why Cooking with Henry and Elliebelly is one of the Funniest Picture Books I’ve Seen in 2010…

(I know I already declared that, but it’s kinda fun to say.)

1) It’s funny as hell and doesn’t strive to be anything but a really funny book. After my first read, I wondered if I wanted at the book’s close a bit more of an emotional connection between the two siblings, some subtle moment that transcended the book’s conceit (make-believe reality show). Nah. After repeated readings, I came to appreciate it for what it is: A really original, very funny book that really nails the sometimes whacked-out imaginative play of children. Particularly sibling play.

And the funny in the book? Have mercy. Did you read up there in the overview about the commercial they put on? And the lyrics to their theme song, you ask?

I mean, come on. Two kids belting out, “this show is good, this show is great.” Funny stuff. And you have to remember that Henry, who is clearly very serious about his reality show endeavor and trying desperately to keep things under control, is always followed by moments like this:

(Check out the dog.)

Publishers Weekly writes, “{Yaccarino} and Parkhurst, making her children’s book debut, invigorate the my-sibling-is-driving-me-crazy genre with fresh, laugh-out-loud comedy, while creating a straight man who’s admirable for his nimbleness at shifting gears, accommodating unforeseen problems, and maintaining relative equanimity…”

2) I read a lot of picture books and sometimes experience picture-book ennui, but (as I’ve already said) this one is quite unlike any other picture book I’ve seen in a while, in terms of premise and execution. So, I’m giving “originality” its own little moment here.

3) The very true-to-life sibling dynamics, as well as child-parent dynamics — not to mention the way it’s communicated via type and font and color. Know how I mentioned in the overview that the mother, at one point, yells “Work it out, you two” from the next room? Well, first, she says “What is it?” (after Henry’s deranged yell of “MOM!!!”). Then, in a slightly darker font, she responds, “Sweetie, she’s two. You don’t have to do what she says.” Then, after the fussing ceases to stop, she snaps her “Work it out, you two” in an even. darker. font. Oh yes, we parents know these moments of escalation — as well as our often completely ineffectual, entirely useless responses to them.

4) Yaccarino’s illustrations. This is such a perfect story for his usual color palette and very retro style. Publishers Weekly writes, “Yaccarino’s…airbrush-styled illustrations, which largely mimic classic TV framing with a counter running across the bottom of several spreads, have a retro-poster boldness that’s perfect for this performance-oriented story.” He conveys subtlety and detail in the body language and facial expressions of the protagonists. School Library Journal writes, “As can be expected, Yaccarino has created characters and an environment that grab readers’ attention and won’t let go. His interpretation of Elliebelly, with her wild curls, peek-a-boo bellybutton, and ever-present pink butterfly wings, is especially perfect.” Elliebelly is, as Betsy Bird wrote in her detailed August review, a “sweet red-haired, butterfly winged spawn of little sisterdom purgatory.”

5) The way Yaccarino captures what Betsy referred to as the “emotional beats” in the story. Check out Elliebelly’s moment of despondency here:

Baby Anne take bath. That’s right. Baby Anne is taking a bath in the washing machine. She’ll be back later in our show. Getting back to our waffles, next you have to count how many years old you are: That’s how many marshmallows and raspberries you need to add. So, my waffle will have five of each,
and Elliebelly’s will only have two.”

Not two! Five! Five for Elliebelly!
Sorry, Elliebelly. That’s what the recipe says.”

6) Little details like the clueless and rather stunned hamster, whom you can sometimes catch in the periphery. He makes an appearance in this very well-done book trailer. (Don’t you just KNOW that the music you hear in this trailer is what is running through Henry’s determined head):

7) The endpapers! Ah, the almost-lost art of good endpaper’ing. You can also see them in the book trailer, the collection of toys that appear after “step one.”

Real waffles! I help eat! Join us next time for Pirate Cooking with Henry and Elliebelly. Baby Theresa! And Baby Theresa! Bon appétit!”
(Click to enlarge spread.)

All in all, a very funny book. Don’t miss it.

Here are some sketches from Dan Yaccarino, and I thank him for sharing…

* * * * * * *

COOKING WITH HENRY AND ELLIEBELLY. Copyright © 2010 by Carolyn Parkhurst. Illustration © 2010 by Dan Yaccarino. Published by Feiwel & Friends, New York, NY. Spreads and sketches reproduced by permission of the illustrator.

11 comments to “One (Truly) Impossible Cooking Show Before Breakfast”

  1. So nice to see a picture book break away from the formulaic without being so obvious about it. It’s what makes a book a staple of classrooms and libraries… and never out of style.

    Nice work, Carolyn and Dan!

  2. Oh, been hungry to chew on this one. Thanks for the great post! 🙂

  3. Another great thing about this one: HUGE kid appeal. My kids (ages 7 and 10, take that, New York Times!) loved reading this aloud and doing all of the “parts.”

  4. Erica: HA. I second the take-that.

  5. Adorable!

    Jules…I think YOU need a theme song. 🙂

  6. Tammi, bring it! WOOT! Who’s gonna write me one?

  7. SEVEN THINGS! What kind of things they could be any things mostly book things but sometimes they’re other things SEVEN THINGS!!

    Call They Might be Giants, those guys are always game, they’ll record it, don’t you think? If not, get some 5 year olds.

    I have been waiting for this book to hit my library, and I swear, if it’s half as funny as your review I will be so pleased!

  8. Paula, oh mercy, I’m laughing. I like that song. Thank you.

  9. Jules, you are welcome! Think horns in the arrangement. Maybe a ska treatment.

  10. Paula: HA.

    I’m seriously starting to think this should be arranged. First, 7-Imp’s own mascot, and now I think 7-Imp needs a theme song.

  11. Dan’s illustrations always exhibit a purity–a kind of antithesis to the Mona Lisa. Look at the faces and see pure joy or pure engagement or pure happiness–nothing hidden behind those eyes, that smile. That’s what makes them purely enjoyable.

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