From Kelly J. Baptist, the award-winning author of Isaiah Dunn Is My Hero, comes a story about Zoe Sparks, an over-enthusiastic cookie-dough seller who wishes to win a laptop from her school fundraiser. Of course, there's unexpected competition, bad music, strained friendships, and over-the-top ideas that go horribly wrong.
Spunky sixth-grader Zoe Sparks has discovered a unique way to get the laptop of her dreams—to win it! If Zoe can sell more tubs of cookie dough than anyone in her school, the laptop is hers. It’s the first step to becoming a prize-winning journalist! But her win-at-all-costs attitude is starting to drive a wedge between Zoe, her best friend Felix, and her family. Zoe may be a top cookie-dough seller in her class, but is winning the prize really worth it?
An Excerpt fromReady, Set, Dough!
The Art of the Crash
This CANNOT be happening right now!
I groan and watch in horror as our ancient computer monitor flickers, fades, and dramatically dies. Okay, let’s be real: it’s not the first time this computer has betrayed me, but today I’m almost finished typing up my feature article for the school paper! Not a cool time to give up the ghost.
“Mo-om!” I yell downstairs at the exact moment Mom cheerfully calls up, “Zoe! Dinner!”
“Mom, the computer crashed again!” I say, hoping she can tell how serious this is. Maybe she’ll drop everything, speed to Office Tech, and buy the Horizon WordPro GT, my dream laptop. It’s super lightweight, comes in orange (my favorite color), and, according to WriteOn! magazine, is “the ultimate machine for serious writers.” Call me obsessed if you want, but I have pictures of the WordPro on my walls and mirror where other people have posters of singers and athletes. It’s how I stay motivated. Especially at times like this.
Unfortunately, Mom doesn’t see the computer crash as earth-shattering, and she doesn’t mention Office Tech or drop what she’s doing so we can go. In fact, she does a great job of smiling and carrying the salad bowl and a basket of rolls to the table.
“We’ll have someone come look at it,” she says breezily. I like that word, breezily, just not when it describes my mother’s tone when my life is on the line!
“Will you get the ranch dressing?” she asks, like nothing is wrong.
“And Italian,” adds my brother, Mark, who’s already heaping spaghetti onto his plate. Mark never has to be called for dinner, but you have to scream for him when it’s his turn to wash the dishes.
I go to the refrigerator, grab the dressing, and hurry to the table. Maybe if I play the “it’s for school” card.
“Mom, my feature article is due tomorrow, and I wasn’t finished typing it!”
“Hope you saved it,” says Mark, reaching for the dressing. I glare at him and set the bottle down on the opposite end of the table. Mark doesn’t even miss a beat. He just stretches his abnormally long arm across the table and grabs it. It takes a lot to get Mark upset.
“Of course I saved it,” I tell him, hoping Google has me covered on this one. I scoop up some spaghetti noodles and wait for Mark to finish drowning his plate in Mom’s special mushroom-marinara sauce. “But, Mom, we really, really need a new computer. You know I do a lot of writing.”
“Let’s say grace,” Mom says, which absolutely frustrates me because it doesn’t seem like she gets how important having a computer is. It’s hard to pay attention to her prayer because I’m trying to figure out what to say next. Mom beats me to it.
“Zoe, after dinner Mark can take you to the library to finish your report,” she says.
“It’s an article, Mom,” I say with a sigh. Why does no one care about my writing?
“Okay, Zoe,” Mom says. “You can finish your article at the library.”
“I have practice tonight, Mom,” Mark says, his mouth full of Mom’s homemade roll. And, of course, his stupid band will probably take priority over what I need to do.
“Hmm.” Mom thinks for a moment as she nibbles on her salad. “Are you all practicing at Chad’s?”
“Mm-hmm.” Mark nods.
“Do they have a computer and printer?” Mom asks.
“Yeah, probably.” Mark shrugs. He’s obviously not getting it, but I see exactly where this is going.
“Well, can your sister go with you and use their computer while you guys practice?”
“Mom, no!” I say. I can’t believe she’d rather have me around four rowdy teenage boys than safe in my own room with a Horizon WordPro GT!
Surprisingly, Mark doesn’t protest the way I do, because as long as he gets to play his music, he doesn’t really care what else is happening around him.
“I’ll text Chad,” he says, before heaping more food onto his plate.
“Mom, can’t Daddy just take me to the library?”
And then to Office Tech. . . .
“He’s working late tonight,” Mom says, and her face changes a tiny bit before going back to normal. It’s like when a cloud moves in front of the sun for a second, so I call it her Shadow Face. She’s been getting it more and more lately.
“So why don’t you just go with Mark tonight, Zoe,” Mom continues, her Shadow Face gone, “and I’ll work on getting the computer fixed for next time.”
I sigh loudly, but I know my fate has been sealed and there’s no use protesting anymore. I’ll work on Daddy in the morning. He’s usually bright and sunny once he gets his cup of coffee. And hey, he recently bought this expensive coffee machine because he loves coffee, so he of all people should understand how much I need the WordPro because I love writing. Plus, the WordPro isn’t that expensive, so it should be easy to convince him.
“Let’s go, Zo,” Mark says, his plate completely clean. His guitar and amp are already placed neatly by the door, so all he has to do is throw on his coat. I, on the other hand, have half a plate of spaghetti left, and unlike Mark, I actually like to taste my food while I’m eating it.
“Can I at least finish my food?” I ask, chewing slowly.
“Mom, if she’s going with me, we gotta leave now. Chad’s parents only let us play till eight,” Mark says.
“I don’t blame them,” Mom says under her breath. No one really knows how Chad’s parents survive the noise of the so-called band.
“Zoe, just take your plate with you,” she says, which is a total shock.
“I thought we weren’t allowed to eat in the car,” I reply.
“I’ll make an exception since your brother’s doing me a favor. Get your coat so you don’t make him late.”
Are you kidding me? No one shows any real concern for a school-related article I need to write, but I have to break rules and risk indigestion and possible hearing loss for Mark’s stupid band rehearsal? Not fair!
I sigh loudly again, but this time Mom gives me the look, so I cut it short. I call it her Buttons Face, as in, Keep pushing my buttons and see what happens. You don’t mess with the Buttons Face.
“Bye, Mom,” I say as I drag myself to the garage, where Mark already has the car on and his music cranked up loud.
“Bye, sweetie,” she says with a smile. “And no worries; we’ll have the computer up and running in no time.”
But that’s exactly what I’m worried about. Because if they do fix the Crash Machine, the only WordPro I’ll have is the one that’s taped on my wall.
Saved by the CRIM
So much for a cozy evening of writing. I barely have my document opened on the Whitfields’ computer when the noise starts up. Even though I’m way upstairs in the loft area, and the band is way downstairs in the basement, I can hear Beanie’s loud mouth as if he were right here screaming in my ear. I think they should be a band that just plays instruments, but sometimes Beanie gets the urge to “sing,” as he calls it.
Beanie’s the bass player of the band, Mark plays lead guitar, Rodney’s on the keyboard, and Chad plays the drums. Beanie’s real name is Ivan, so they decided to name the band the CRIM, which is all their initials put together. Daddy jokes that they better not get an Elliot or Ethan to join the band, cuz then they’d be the CRIME. Personally, I think the name fits; their music is a crime.
“Ugh!” I groan loudly, but no one is there to hear it. Chad’s parents are up in their room with earplugs in, most likely reading. They’re both college professors who are probably wondering how they got stuck with a wild child like Chad.
I munch on one of the oatmeal chocolate chip cookies that Chad’s mother gave me and try to tune out the CRIM. Most people don’t realize how hard it is to write a good article. Not hard like geometry or Spanish, of course. More like the hard in doing one of Mom’s video workouts. You really gotta push yourself, but then you feel good when it’s done. At least, that’s what Mom says.
I work on the Who’s Buzzin’ column, which features a new student or teacher every week. When there’s a special event or issue going on, we also do a What’s Buzzin’ column. This week, I’m doing a feature on Mr. Stinson, the seventh-grade social studies teacher. Rumor is, he’s gonna be retiring soon, but when I hinted at it (trying to get the scoop), he just flashed his yellow teeth; coughed for, like, a minute straight; and said he had plenty of good years left. I made sure to get that quote.
Mr. Stinson is obviously really old, but he’s also extremely boring, which is making this article pretty hard to write. Most times, my subject has a cool hobby or a juicy little-known fact to share, but Mr. Stinson gave me none of that in our interview. He rattled on about his love of history, which I thought was so cliché for a guy who’s basically a living history book. He’s nothing like Mrs. Lyles, the art teacher. She’s probably as old as Mr. Stinson but way cooler. She travels every summer to places like Paris and Venice and Athens and Cape Town, and has a wall of postcards in her classroom.
Usually only seventh and eighth graders get to be on the Kentwood Buzz, our school’s paper, but this year they decided to pick three sixth graders to be junior staff members and take a journalism elective class. I’m one of the sixth graders, and so is my best friend, Felix Fields, who’s a junior photographer. It won’t be junior for long, though; Felix works miracles with his camera! Some of the other kids didn’t think sixth graders would be able to do a good job, but me and Felix are proving them all wrong.
If I can’t get this article together, they might kick me off the staff. I brainstorm all the words that come to me when I think of Mr. Stinson, but none of them are cool or eye-catching enough for a headline.
And then the unthinkable happens.
Before I can stop myself, I accidentally start listening to the words that Beanie is screeching:
“REWIND! REWIND! Free yourself from now, go back in time!”
And I actually get an idea! Writing a typical question-and-answer article on Mr. Stinson would bore everybody to death, but maybe there’s something from our interview that I can turn into more of a fictional piece. Thanks to the CRIM, I now have my headline: “Rewinding Herbert Stinson.”
“Hmm, there’s gotta be something here,” I mumble as I go through my notes. I have to fight the yawns even as I read his answers to my questions. I mean, who studies Greek for fun and only listens to cassette tapes? What are cassette tapes anyway? I do a quick search and nearly die laughing. People used to buy these bulky rectangle-block things to listen to music? I make a face and wonder if my parents did.
As I keep reading, it hits me: the cassette tape thing totally goes with my headline! I start typing, and before too long I have an awesome story about a much younger Mr. Stinson getting his very first cassette tape, and how amazing and new it was at that time. I don’t like bragging, but it’s a pretty good piece, especially considering what I had to work with. I upload the file to the Buzz’s shared drive and share it with myself and Felix, just to be safe.
I pop another cookie into my mouth and grab my phone to text Felix.
Felix, no lie, I just wrote my BEST STORY EVER!
And it’s about Mr. Stinson! Make sure you bring your camera tomorrow! It’ll be hard, but we can try to get at least one good pic of him.
Felix usually responds super-fast, just always with short responses. This time it takes him two whole minutes, which I don’t have the patience for. And, of course, he always adds his annoying, unfunny hashtag to the message:
Cool. And duh, all my pics are GOOD #upgrade
I growl at my phone, which is embarrassingly old since it used to be Mark’s, like, eighty years ago. My parents actually wrapped it up and gave it to me as a “gift” for my birthday last year. Daddy said it was my trial phone, to see how I do with it before they spend actual money on one. Get this: they didn’t even put me on the family plan! That means I, Zoe Sparks, journalism genius, can only use my phone when I’m around Wi-Fi! What a slap in the face! Felix never lets me forget it.
Don’t start, Fe Fe. Are you covering the assembly?
Felix and I always have fun at assemblies. We have the tradition of whispering what we think the teachers up front are thinking. The funniest thing ever was when the entire PA system crashed and burned just when Felix whispered that Ms. Mason had to be thinking about how annoying her voice was.
Mrs. Whitfield’s soft touch on my shoulder almost makes me jump out of my skin. Since I have on headphones and the CRIM is so loud, the whole house could’ve been robbed and I wouldn’t know.
“How’re you doing, Zoe?”
“Oh, um, I’m okay, Mrs. Whitfield,” I say, pulling off the headphones.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” Mrs. Whitfield says, yelling to be heard over the band. “Just making sure you’re surviving this!”
Mrs. Whitfield smiles, but I can tell she’s had enough of the noise.
“Greg and I can’t take much more,” she tells me, checking her watch. The time on the computer says 7:35. The torture is almost over!
“Do you mind if I print this?” I ask. Even though the article is uploaded and saved, I always like to keep hard copies of my articles. I’ve had one too many computer disasters where I’ve ended up losing something important.
“Sure!” Mrs. Whitfield shows me which printer to connect to (they have two; no fair!), and before I know it, my words float into the world on crisp white paper.
I scan the Whitfields’ office setup. Computer, laptop, one of those printers that also scans and faxes, electric stapler, wireless keyboard, a box of printer paper, ink cartridges for days, a paper shredder. Even the wireless mouse is cool! They have the ideal everything in this loft, and I bet Chad never even sets foot up here. I sigh. He doesn’t know how lucky he is. All he cares about is his drums. But hey, if I had a setup like this in my room, you’d probably never see me, either.