Nixie Ness, Cooking Star
Junior Library Guild Selection
For decades I’ve been writing school stories. I love school! I love everything about school! But for this new series I decided to venture from my familiar territory a little bit by writing instead about . . . after school! Millions of children in the United States – and elsewhere – attend after-school programs, often with the chance to explore fascinating activities like cooking, comic-book creation, and computer coding. So in this first book, I sent Nixie off to cooking camp; in the next book, her friend Vera stars in a story set in a comic-book camp; and I’m now doing research for book number three, which will be set in a coding camp. I had so much fun trying out the recipes for Nixie’s story – including having my dog, Tanky, try out the home-made dog biscuits, and my son’s cat, Clementine, try out the home-made cat cookies. (Tanky loved these treats; Clementine. . . didn’t.)
Third-graders Nixie and Grace spend every afternoon after school together at Nixie’s house, until the day Nixie’s mom quits working from home to accept her dream job at a bookstore. Nixie will now attend “After School Superstars,” and Grace, whose family can’t afford the after-school program, will spend her afternoons with another classmate, Elyse. Almost immediately, Nixie finds her friendship with Grace facing the strain of jealousy. To complicate matters further, Nixie actually enjoys After School Superstars, especially her cooking class, but she feels guilty forming new friendships. Unaddressed tension grows until Nixie loses control and meanly lashes out at Grace: “The only reason you go to Elyse’s house is because your parents are too poor to send you to after-school camp with everybody else! Her family felt sorry for you!” She eventually makes amends (and cookies), leading to a satisfying resolution. Humorous vignettes from cooking class lighten the story, with the kids Nixie meets there gently helping her to both figure out how to broaden her friend group and discover the power of apologies, grand gestures, and honest conversation. Expressive black-and-white illustrations give newer chapter-book readers time to pause and process the events and maybe consider their own friendship dramas.
Nixie is facing a crisis: "How could you be best friends with more than one person?" Now that the third-grader's stay-at-home mother has gotten a job, Nixie has to attend after-school cooking camp. That means her very best friend, Grace, who's been staying with Nixie in the afternoons because the after-school program costs too much, will now be staying with Elyse. Naturally, Grace enjoys spending time with Elyse—and Elyse's new kitten—cementing a new friendship. It's not that cooking camp isn't fun. Nixie's team, consisting of smart, fact-spewing Nolan, very precise Vera, and humorously energetic Boogie Bass, makes sure of that. But it's not the same any more, having to reluctantly share Grace with Elyse, and Nixie's determined to find a way to fix things. Unfortunately, her misguided efforts only backfire, and finally Nixie, feeling betrayed, does the unthinkable and screams a horrible thing at Grace. It won't be easy to win back her friend. Nixie and her classmates are drawn with enough individuality to distinguish them, as they deal with the universal problems of their age group supported by friendly peers and (mostly) helpful adults. Nixie and Boogie present white, and Nolan is Indian-American; illustrations suggest that Vera, Grace, and Elyse are all children of color. Likable Nixie creates a terrific recipe for winning back old friends and making lots of new ones.