Nixie Ness, Cooking Star
Author: Claudia Mills
Illustrator: Grace Zong
Publishication Date: June 4th, 2019 by Margaret Ferguson Books
Summary: Best friends Nixie and Grace spend every afternoon together . . . until Nixie’s mom gets a new job and Nixie must attend the after-school program, without Grace.
Third graders Nixie Ness and Grace Kenny have been best friends since they were two-years-old. They have always spent every afternoon after school at Nixie’s house until Nixie’s mom announces that she has a job, which means she won’t be there to watch the girls after school, which means Nixie will have to go to the after-school program and Grace will be spending her afternoons at their classmate, Elyse’s, house.
Nixie begrudgingly starts the after-school program, joining the cooking camp. And it turns out that the other children at cooking camp are nice, and the recipes they make are delicious. But Nixie can’t really enjoy being an after-school superstar until she finds a way to overcome her jealousy about Grace and Elyse’s budding friendship.
Perfect for fans of Judy Moody, Ivy and Bean, and Clementine, this new chapter book series features recurring characters, and each book will highlight one activity they do at their after-school program. The books are illustrated in black and white and include a bonus activity that corresponds to the book’s plot. Nixie Ness: Cooking Star features a recipe for morning glory muffins. The next book in the After-School Superstars series, Vera Vance: Comics Star, is scheduled for release in Spring 2020.
About the Author: Claudia Mills is the author of almost 60 books for young readers, including most recently the Franklin School Friends series from Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and her new After-School Superstars series from Holiday House. In addition to writing books, she has been a college professor in the philosophy department at the University of Colorado at Boulder and in the graduate programs in children’s literature at Hollins University in Roanoke. Visit Claudia at www.claudiamillsauthor.com.
Message from the Author: My newest book, Nixie Ness, Cooking Star, is the first in a new chapter-book series – After-School Superstars – set in an after-school program featuring a different themed camp each month. After a long career of writing school stories, I decided it was time to branch out to the fascinating world of after-school programs, which offer kids so many fun activities that don’t fit easily into the already crowded elementary-school curriculum. Other planned books in the series will take place in a comic-book camp (Vera Vance, Comics Star) and a computer-coding camp (Lucy Lopez, Coding Star). I haven’t yet decided on the topic for the fourth camp yet. Suggestions welcome!
This first book is a celebration of the joy of cooking, but it’s also a friendship story. Nixie has to face some painful changes when her mom gets a new job and Nixie now needs to attend an after-school program, while her best friend (who had previously spent every afternoon with Nixie at Nixie’s house) goes to another friend’s house after school instead. Will Nixie lose Grace to “best-friend stealer” Elyse? Or will cooking camp help Nixie find a way to save her friendship with Grace while making new friends, too?
“Oh, those are adorable, girls!” Nixie’s mother pulled out her phone to snap some pictures of the girls standing next to their cupcakes. Nixie and Grace made normal smiles for the first photo and then hung out their tongues and held up begging puppy paws for the others until they both dissolved in a fit of giggles.
As Nixie’s mom returned the phone to the pocket of her jeans, her mouth twitched the way it did when she was about to say something she wasn’t sure Nixie was going to like.
“Why don’t you take a little decorating break,” she said. “I have some news. It affects both of you, so Grace’s mother said it was all right if I told you together.”
Nixie’s chest tightened, as she and Grace plopped down into chairs at the cupcake-covered table.
“You know how I’ve been talking about finding a new job?”
Nixie relaxed. Her mother had been talking about getting a go-off-to-work job ever since Nixie started kindergarten. First she was planning to look for a job at the public library because she loved books so much. Then she was going to apply for a job at Nixie’s school because she loved kids so much. Nothing ever happened.
“Well, I got a phone call this morning that I got the job I applied for a month ago, back in August,” her mother said. “They want me to start right away, on Monday.”
Nixie and Grace exchanged stunned glances.
“What kind of job?” Grace asked.
“A wonderful job. Working in a bookstore. And not just any bookstore. The new children’s bookstore downtown.”
It did sound like the perfect job for a person who loved books and kids. Her mother looked so happy that Nixie wanted to be happy for her, too. But if this was really such a terrific thing, why had her mother’s mouth been so twitchy? And what was going to happen after school?
She could hear her voice coming out squeaky. “Will you work all day? Will Grace and I go to the after-school program?”
She’d bet anything there would be no baking of puppy or kitten cupcakes there. And the after-school teachers, like every grownup they’d ever known, would tell her and Grace that it wasn’t nice to play by themselves so much. They’d talk on and on about “including others.” Nixie didn’t want to include others, unless the other was a dog.
“The after-school program is tons of fun,” Grace offered, her face brightening. “Really, it is.”
“Says who?” Nixie asked.
“Says everybody,” Grace replied.
Nixie had heard over morning announcements that Longwood Elementary School had a new program this year called After-School Super Stars, all camps, with a different camp each month for each grade. But she had barely listened to the details, knowing that she and Grace would never have to go there.
Grace kept on talking. “I forget what the first camp was, the one we already missed, but the next camp for our grade is – ta-dah! – a cooking camp! I think we’ll like it, Nixie.”
This was vastly worse than Grace’s saying she thought kitten cupcakes were cuter than puppy cupcakes or wanting to invite Elyse over to play. Tears stung the inside of Nixie’s eyes. She scrunched them shut before one could escape and trickle down her cheeks.
“Actually . . . .” Nixie’s mom said slowly.
“Actually, what?” Nixie tried to keep her voice from wobbling.
Her mother hesitated before replying.
“Nixie, you’re going to attend the after-school program. Grace’s mother is making other plans.”
Nixie remembered that the reason Grace had started spending afternoons at Nixie’s house in the first place was because all the after-school programs cost too much.
Nixie reached over for Grace’s hand the same way she had done on the first day of preschool.
Grace squeezed her hand tight.
They decorated the last six cupcakes in silence. What did anything matter if they’d never be together at Nixie’s house after school, just the two of them, ever again?
Two recipes Nixie makes at camp:
Morning Glory Muffins (Nixie’s favorite!)
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp salt
2 cups grated carrot
2 cup grated apple
½ cup coconut flakes
½ cup chopped walnuts
¼ cup sunflower seeds
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup orange juice
1/3 cup honey
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup seedless raisins
Preheat oven to 375.
Combine dry ingredients in large mixing bowl (flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt).
Stir in carrots, apples, coconut, walnuts and seeds so they are coated with the flour mixture.
In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, vanilla, orange juicy, honey, and oil.
Fold in the raisins.
Spoon into lightly greased muffin pan (the recipe makes 18 muffins).
Bake for around 18 minutes (a bit less for darker pans).
Home-made dog biscuits (Alas, Nixie doesn’t have a dog!)
2 ½ cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp. salt
1 cube beef or chicken bouillon
¾ cups boiling water
Additional treats to your dog’s taste: bacon bits, oats, shredded cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Dissolve bouillon in boiling water; stir.
Add remaining ingredients.
Knead dough until it forms a ball.
Roll dough until ¼ inch thick.
Cut into bone shapes (or any shape of your choosing) with a cookie cutter.
Place shapes on lightly greased cookie sheet.
Bake for 30 minutes.
Thank you, Claudia, for helping us celebrate your newest title!
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